Edward Snowden wants to come home.
The onetime National Security Agency contractor who leaked some of its deepest secrets first to journalists and then the world, told a standing-room-only audience at the CeBit conference in Hanover, Germany, that he’d like to negotiate a way with U.S. authorities to return legally to American soil without having to face the remainder of his life in prison.
“I think it’s the best resolution for the federal government and the public,” he said, via a remote video link from Russia, where he has been living under political asylum. “We don’t want to have the kind of government where people who reveal serious wrongdoing have to seek shelter in other countries to seek any kind of justice.”
He’s even willing to stand trial for the crimes he’s been charged with: Specifically one charge of theft of government property, and two charges of violating the Espionage Act of 1917. If only it were that simple.
The Espionage Act basically makes it impossible for a person to defend himself or herself against the charges by explaining any extenuating reason for disclosing information the government considers secret.
“I want to tell the jury why I did it,” Snowden said. “I want to tell the court what these programs are. I want the jury to decide whether it was right or wrong that our rights were being violated in secret. I’m forbidden from doing that.”
As a former IT systems administrator at the NSA, Snowden collected thousands of documents he later disclosed to journalists — including The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald, who was onstage in person in Hanover during Snowden’s appearance — detailing previously unknown surveillance programs that were said to target the emails and phones calls of American citizens. The disclosures shook the U.S. intelligence community and the tech industry in ways that have yet to be fully resolved.
Snowden dodged questions about the possibility of clemency or a pardon by President Obama before he leaves office, saying he couldn’t comment on any negotiations his lawyers may be conducting on that front.
He did say that he felt like he had “burned his life to the ground” in order to blow the whistle on programs he felt were morally wrong.
“Nobody like me stands up and self-nominates to burn their life to the ground just for kicks. People do this because they know there’s something going on that’s extraordinarily wrong and that must be addressed,” he said.
Even so, and repeating a declaration he’s made before, he said he’d do it all again. “The thing about burning to the ground is that it’s actually like crop rotation and it leaves room for new growth,” he said. “I lost what I had, but I have a new and incredibly fulfilling new way to contribute in correcting these problems that myself and so many other of my colleagues around me wanted to address and simply didn’t have the power to do so.” That comment received sustained applause from the audience made mostly of Germans connected to the technology industry.
He closed his talk by renewing his call for tech companies to build more secure products. Referring to a survey released earlier this week saying that nearly half of Americans think differently about their privacy since the Snowden leaks but tend to not do anything about protecting it, Snowden put the onus on the tech industry itself.
“The headlines said that relatively few people were concerned about government surveillance, but when you consider that it’s close to 50 percent, that’s millions of people who want to feel safe,” he said. “The people in this room can make us feel safe. … If you can provide that safety in a way that will not work against the interests of the user, you will have a competitive service, and you will have the moral standing to compete in the domain of policy to make it a standard not just at home, but to people around the world who are truly vulnerable.”
Snowden’s Google Hangout sessions from an undisclosed location in Russia have turned him into something of a regular on the conference circuit. Earlier this week he appeared for an unpublicized Q&A session with a handful of tech company executives at the SXSW conference in Austin, Texas.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.