Is Edward Snowden stateless? Not really

July 02, 2013|By Daniel Rothberg
  • Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden claimed in a statement Monday that the United States had made him a stateless person by revoking his passport.
Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden claimed in a statement Monday that… (Vincent Yu / AP )

In past weeks, we’ve seen former NSA contractor Edward Snowden as a hacker. We’ve seen him as a leaker. And we’ve seen him as a source. But a stateless person is one thing he is likely not.

WikiLeaks released a statement from Snowden on Monday (whether it was written by him is up for debate) that slams the Obama administration for effectively rendering him stateless:

The Obama administration has now adopted the strategy of using citizenship as a weapon. Although I am convicted of nothing, it has unilaterally revoked my passport, leaving me a stateless person.

Statelessness, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency, refers to the absence of nationality or citizenship. 

But a state can still consider one a national even while revoking his or her passport. According to a fact sheet from the U.S. Department of Justice, legitimate law enforcement rationales exist for revoking a passport. The main reasons include a felony arrest warrant or a condition of parole or probation that forbids leaving the country.

Bruce Einhorn, an adjunct professor of law at Pepperdine University and a former federal immigration judge, said it’s hard to justify Snowden’s stateless claim based on the information that’s known. Snowden has not been stripped of his U.S. citizenship and still has the right, as a citizen of the United States, to return home under international law.

So Snowden is not necessarily stuck in Russia forever. Einhorn notes that he could request a temporary travel document from a U.S. consul allowing him to return to the United States.

It’s unlikely Snowden will be traveling home anytime soon, though. At last check, Snowden had applied for asylum in 21 countries. Three flatly denied the requests. Eleven said Snowden must show up at an embassy or on their soil. But Bolivia and Venezuela reportedly seem open to the idea.


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Twitter: @danielrothberg

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