WASHINGTON - The US Congress has passed a law offering whistleblower protections for government intelligence employees, a move cheered Wednesday by supporters of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
The House of Representatives voted late Tuesday to pass the final version of the annual provision authorizing the US government's intelligence activities for the 2015 budget year, which begins October 1. The Senate had already voted to approve the provision.
Section VI forbids firing, demoting or other reprisals against any intelligence worker who reports violations of federal law, wasting of funds or any activity that puts the public in danger to the inspector general of agencies such as the National Security Agency or Central Intelligence Agency.
The statute also applies to anyone reporting issues to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, or to lawmakers on intelligence committees.
"It's a no-brainer to restore safe alternatives to illegal leaks," said Tom Devine of the Government Accountability Project, which defends Snowden.
Last year, the former intelligence contractor leaked details of vast US surveillance programs on everything from everyday people's phone calls to intrusions into high-tech companies' servers.
But non-staff contractors, such as Edward Snowden during his time working for the NSA, are not covered by the new protections. They had been protected under a law that was in effect between 2007 and 2012.
In Congress, a number of lawmakers reproached Snowden for having leaked the NSA files to journalists and not through official channels within the government.
Snowden says he tried, without success, to bring his concerns to his bosses.
The law also requires Senate confirmation for the director of the NSA, a post that until now had been outside senators' oversight.