The US government has formally charged the man behind a series of leaks on National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance programmes.
The Washington Post cited unnamed government officials in reporting that former contractor Edward Snowden will face charges of “espionage, theft and conversion of government property” should he be arrested or extradited by a foreign government.
The US was widely expected to file charges against Snowden after he leaked a number of documents to the press, which described the programmes the NSA uses to keep track of user activity in its internal investigations of criminal matters.
The former contractor and systems analyst made himself an instant global celebrity and hero of the user rights movement when in early June he leaked information on the PRISM database project. The system aggregated data collected from many of the largest service providers to give intelligence agencies a collection of user activity.
Snowden was last reported to be in Hong Kong. No word had been given on US demands for extradition.
In addition to domestic surveillance, the PRISM archive is said to have been accessed by foreign agencies, including the UK's Government Communications Headquarters. The European Commission has already begun investigating the role the programme played in Europe.
Meanwhile, the companies associated with the PRISM archive have attempted to distance themselves from the scandal. Google, Apple, Microsoft and Yahoo have all denied knowledge of PRISM and any co-operation with government agencies beyond what is required by federal law.
[Update] Over the weekend Snowden fled to Russia and he is reported to be seeking asylum in Ecuador.