The Victoria and Albert Museum in London is displaying the destroyed Edward Snowden laptop as part of the “All This Belongs To You” exhibition.
The free exhibition examines “the role of public institutions in contemporary life” and to ask “what it means to be responsible for a national collection.”
As instructed by British intelligence officials, editors of The Guardian destroyed Snowden’s MacBook Air and Western Digital hard drive, which he used to leak top-secret NSA documents revealing government mass-surveillance and data collection worldwide. The Guardian editor, Alan Rusbridger, described the order to destroy the equipment as “a peculiarly pointless piece of symbolism,” given the newspaper had told the British government it had backup copies of the data overseas.
The exact size of the leak is unknown, but it is estimated that Snowden handed to The Guardian between 50,000 to 200,000 NSA documents revealing government data collection methods and the amount of data collected. Data-collection methods included unrestricted tapping into major Internet providers and websites, collecting private phone calls and emails, and even spying on other countries’ leaders.
The revelations have pushed forward national and international debate about the role of government surveillance agencies, how they collect information, and how to handle government whistleblowers. Critics contend that government mass surveillance methods go far, infringing on personal privacy. Proponents claim that threats to national security necessitate such measures.
After leaking the documents to Guardian journalist Glen Greenwald in Hong Kong, Snowden fled to Russia, where he remained in an airport transit zone until Russia granted him asylum and then residency.
Snowden’s supporters describe him as a defender of personal freedom, a true patriot, and a hero. U.S. government officials remain unimpressed, preferring to make him a traitor, criminal, and dissident. In June 2013, United States federal prosecutors filed criminal charges against Snowden for theft of government property and two counts of violating the 1917 Espionage Act.