Edward Snowden, the former intelligence contractor who leaked thousands of classified documents that revealed the scale of US and British surveillance, has made an appeal to Barack Obama to grant him a presidential pardon before leaving office.
Snowden, whose disclosures included the revelation that the US National Security Agency was collecting "metadata" on Americans' phone calls, is living in exile in Moscow, and would face up to 30 years in prison if he returned to the US.
He said the leaks were "vital" and that even if he was legally guilty he had done nothing morally wrong.
"Yes, there are laws on the books that say one thing, but that is perhaps why the pardon power exists - for the exceptions, for the things that may seem unlawful in letters on a page but when we look at them morally, when we look at them ethically, when we look at the results, it seems these were necessary things, these were vital things," he told the Guardian.
"If not for these disclosures, if not for these revelations, we would be worse off," he added.
The White House says Mr Obama still believes Snowden must face the charges against him in court.
"Mr Snowden has been charged with serious crimes, and it's the policy of the administration that Mr Snowden should return and face those charges," Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary said. "That's what the president believes."
Eric Holder, the former US attorney general, raised eyebrows by saying in May that Snowden had performed a "public service".
Mr Holder, a confidant of Mr Obama,, said Mr Snowden had acted illegally, but had raised a needed debate over surveillance that had led to reforms.