National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden and filmmaker and journalist Laura Poitras were honored Wednesday with the Ridenhour Prize for Truth-Telling.
"We have selected Edward Snowden and Laura Poitras for their work in exposing the NSA's llegal and unconstitutional bulk collection of the ommunications of millions of people living in the United States," the award committee explained in a statement.
"When Clapper raised his hand and lied to the American public, was anyone tried? Were any charges brought? Within 24 hours of going public, I had three charges against me."
"Their act of courage was undertaken at great personal risk and has sparked a critical and transformative debate about mass surveillance in a country where privacy is considered a constitutional right. We particularly wanted to salute the role that Poitras has played in this story, as we feel that her contribution has not been adequately recognized by the American media."
Poitras also received accolades last month when the Guardian US and the Washington Post received the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for their reporting on the NSA's vast surveillance network, as Poitras provided reporting based on Snowden's leaks for both publications.
On Wednesday, the whistleblower, who was received at the event with a standing ovation, said he thought his actions would have left him behind bars for life.
"I did it because it was the right thing to do, and now I see I’m not the only one who felt that way," he said, speaking via video feed.
He also contrasted the repercussions he faces compared to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who in March 2013 lied under oath to Congress about surveilling Americans.
"When Clapper raised his hand and lied to the American public, was anyone tried? Were any charges brought?" Snowden asked. "Within 24 hours of going public, I had three charges against me."
Poitras, who also spoke via video stream, said that working on the Snowden story brought her more "fear and intimidation" than her work reporting from war zones, the Washington Post reports.
The awards, now in their 11th year, are named after investigative journalist Ron Ridenhour, who helped expose the My Lai massacre. Their goal is to "recognize acts of truth-telling that protect the public interest, promote social justice or illuminate a more just vision of society."