Former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton has said that Edward Snowden should have the right to a legal defence if he returns to the US.
Speaking in a video interview with The Guardian on Friday, Clinton said: 'If he wishes to return knowing he would be held accountable and also able to present a defence, that is his decision to make'
Snowden sparked a worldwide scandal when he leaked over 1.7m top-secret documents detailing the NSA's covert surveillance activities and sharing them with media outlets including The Guardian and the Washington Post.
The former NSA contractor has been charged with three separate violations of the US Espionage Act and is currently living in self-imposed exile in Russia, where he has been granted temporary asylum.
'In any case I'm aware of as a former lawyer, he has a right to mount a defence,' Clinton said. 'And he certainly has a right to launch both a legal defence and a public defence, which can of course affect the legal defence.
'Whether he chooses to return or not is up to him. He certainly can stay in Russia, apparently under Putin's protection, for the rest of his life if that's what he chooses.
'But if he is serious about engaging in the debate then he could take the opportunity to come back and have that debate. But that's his decision.'
Snowden's legal team said a key obstacle to the whistleblower returning to the US is his inability to launch a public interest defence.
When asked if she believed the Espionage Act should be reformed to allow Snowden a defence, Clinton claimed that she did not know what the whistleblower has been charged with, as they were 'sealed indictments'.
Last month, Snowden joined Google, Mozilla, Reddit and a number of other technology companies and privacy groups to call for greater online privacy rights as part of the Reset the Net campaign.
He said adopting encryption was 'the first effective step everyone can take to end mass surveillance'. 'Don't ask for your privacy, take it back,' Snowden added.
Watch Hillary Clinton's interview with The Guardian below: