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Could Snowden cause problems for future whistleblowers?

Edward Snowden is currently missing in action.

Edward Snowden is currently missing in action.

The former National Security Agency contractor who leaked confidential documents exposing U.S. government surveillance operations reportedly left Hong Kong on Sunday, but WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who has taken Snowden's well-being upon himself, assures the public that Snowden is safe.

The United States officially filed espionage charges against Snowden on Friday, and all governments have been urged by the U.S. to help return Snowden. The former NSA contractor was in Hong Kong but then reportedly flew to Russia. China and Russia are not only rival powers to the United States, but also have a strong history of infringing on the privacy of their own citizens.

But Snowden’s choice of location may harm his public image as a protector of freedom. “If he cozies up to either the Russian government, the Chinese government, or any of these governments that are perceived still as enemies of ours…I think that that’ll be a real problem for him in history,” Sen. Rand Paul said Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union.

It’s possible that Snowden is also causing problems for future whistleblowers, said Foreign Policy magazine's Noah Shachtman on msnbc Monday. “[Past whistleblowers] are also concerned that now future whistleblowers are going to be seen as sort of enemies of the state, when in fact they’re anything but—they’re trying to improve what the government does.”

Though Snowden's current whereabouts are unknown (he did not show up on a June 24 flight out of Moscow, for which a ticket had reportedly been purchased in his name), his next location might be Ecuador, where Julian Assange of WikiLeaks has been helping to arrange for Snowden’s request for asylum. Assange himself was granted asylum at Ecuador’s embassy in London last August. Reuters reported that Snowden has received refugee papers from Ecuador.