Canadian lawyer auctioning NFT of previously unpublished Edward Snowden photos

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Canadian lawyer auctioning NFT of previously unpublished Edward Snowden photos
© Provided by National Post Image of a non-fungible token featuring photos of Edward Snowden and Canadian lawyer Rob Tibbo.

The Canadian lawyer who helped Edward Snowden evade capture in Hong Kong is using a very modern method to raise money for refugee clients who hid the whistleblower — including one who appears in growing danger.

Rob Tibbo is auctioning Thursday a non-fungible token (NFT) of a series of candid photos he took of Snowden in Russia, images he says have never been published or seen by more than a few people.

Tibbo said he plans to auction other Snowden-related NFTs later, included a “Stay Free” declaration signed by the man who leaked a trove of top-secret documents on American and allied mass-surveillance programs.

NFTs are one-of-a-kind digital representations of art work, photos and other material stored on the blockchain — and have created a feverish market .

Snowden himself auctioned off an NFT earlier this year of an illustration that featured his face made up of pages from a U.S. court ruling. It raised almost US$5.5 million for the Freedom of the Press Foundation.

The lawyer’s initial NFT will include a sequence of 14 photos of Snowden alongside Tibbo, who took the pictures using his camera’s time-exposure feature.

Canadian lawyer auctioning NFT of previously unpublished Edward Snowden photos
© Robert Tibbo Image of a non-fungible token featuring photos of Edward Snowden and Canadian lawyer Rob Tibbo.

While there are lots of posed photos of the famous whistleblower in the public domain, “these are more behind-the-scenes, real pictures, real situations,” he said. “It’s wonderful to see the different expressions and emotions.”

Tibbo said he’ll keep some of what he raises to cover his own living expenses after being forced to abandon Hong Kong and his legal career there in the fallout from the affair. The rest will go to two non-profit groups that are helping three of the refugees who concealed the former intelligence consultant.

The plight of one of them — Sri Lankan Ajith Pushpa Kumara — appears increasingly precarious. The last of the group waiting to hear whether Canada will accept him as a permanent resident, Kumara was detained by Hong Kong police recently in a troubling incident of alleged racial profiling.

One expert on the blockchain said he’s sure Tibbo’s NFT, to be put up for sale on the zora.co site Thursday afternoon, will have a market.

“That’s actually pretty historic if you think about it ,” said Andreas Park , a University of Toronto business professor.

“The man had a pretty big impact on the world, a really big impact. This is not random pictures taken of a random guy,” he said. “He has a fan base for sure. Even people who are not his fans would recognize the significance of what he did.”

  • Refugee family that helped hide Snowden arrives in Canada
  • Refugee who aided Snowden struggles to build new life in Canada

Snowden left his job at the National Security Agency in the U.S. and landed in Hong Kong in 2013, releasing to journalists documents detailing a number of highly classified surveillance programs.

The bombshell leak helped raise questions about government snooping in the post-9/11 era, making Snowden a hero to some, a villain to others and one of the planet’s most-wanted men.

After being retained by Snowden, Tibbo had a group of his refugee clients hide him in essentially the ghettos of Hong Kong for two weeks, before he surfaced and flew to Moscow, where he remains today.

When Tibbo revealed the refugees’ role in 2016, having learned that a new movie would detail their acts, he says he and them were subject to persecution in Hong Kong. Tibbo and lawyers in Montreal helped the group apply for refugee status in Canada. A Filipino mother and daughter and a Sri Lankan couple with two children have been admitted to Canada, all privately sponsored. But Pushpa Kumara, who acted as sort of a body guard for Snowden during his days on the run, still waits word from Ottawa.

Like the others, his refugee application in Hong Kong has been rejected, and last month he had a taste of just how fragile his existence is there, says Tibbo.

While shopping in a market, he was allegedly grabbed by several police officers, who held him for 15 minutes, assaulted him and accused him of having fraudulent documents, before letting him go.

“I was afraid for my life,” Pushpa Kumara said in a statement forwarded by Tibbo. “I fear being locked up and losing all my freedom and being sent back to Sri Lanka. I am not safe in Hong Kong.”

He was clearly targeted because of his ethnicity, said the lawyer. The incident also underscores the newly harsh approach of police there under the controversial National Security Law imposed by Beijing last year, said Tibbo.

It is all the more reason for Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada to quickly come to a decision on the Sri Lankan refugee’s application, he said.

“Ajith has waited a very long time,” said the lawyer. “He’s questioning why it’s taken so long and why he’s left behind.”

• Email: tblackwell@postmedia.com | Twitter: tomblackwellNP

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