Human rights groups from around the world have delivered more than a million signatures to the White House, asking President Barack Obama to pardon Edward Snowden, the man who blew the whistle on warrantless government surveillance of all Americans.
Given the political climate, the timing couldn’t be more urgent. Once Donald Trump comes into office, no such pardon will be possible. In fact, Trump has suggested Snowden should be executed. Snowden can be viewed by patriotic Americans as a fellow patriot, a whistleblower, a dissident, or as a traitor.
I asked Obama to pardon Snowden over the holidays. To me, this is a tech story, not just a political one. Americans have to be more aware about protecting our data, our privacy, and our freedoms. He exposed illegal activities and started a public debate that led to a crackdown on the NSA’s sweeping powers and led to efforts to curb spying on U.S. citizens.
The U.S. Department of Justice charged Snowden with violating the Espionage Act of 1917 and with theft of government property. He flew to Moscow in June 2013. The U.S. government revoked his passport, and Russia granted him temporary asylum.
After hearing about the signatures, Snowden replied with a tweet:
— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) January 13, 2017
Here’s a copy of the letter.
On January 13, 2017, the Pardon Snowden campaign delivered more than 1 million signatures to the White House, from people asking President Obama to pardon Edward Snowden. This letter, from the heads of the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch, accompanied the signatures.
January 13, 2017
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear President Obama,
We are hereby delivering signatures from 1,101,252 people across the world who ask that you use your presidential authority to pardon Edward Snowden.
As you well know, Snowden disclosed information to journalists revealing that the NSA had overstepped U.S. statutes, the Constitution, and international law by engaging in widespread, warrantless surveillance. In response, we’ve seen a global debate that has changed government policies and profoundly affected how people think about personal privacy.
Since Snowden acted, all three branches of the U.S. government have worked to rein in the NSA’s powers. Technology companies have increased their use of encryption. The United Nations appointed a first-ever privacy watchdog. These are but a few examples of the reforms triggered by Snowden.
You said yourself in 2014 that the debate spurred by Snowden “will make us stronger.” You were proven right. His actions gave people everywhere the knowledge to debate the merits of surveillance powers that had largely evaded democratic oversight even as they vastly grew in scope.
Given the history of government retaliation against NSA whistleblowers, recently underscored by the suspension of the agency’s inspector general, Snowden’s decision to work with responsible journalists to inform the public was wholly appropriate. He deserves better than a life in exile or a trial under the Espionage Act that would preclude him from raising his public service in defense.
We are confident that Edward Snowden will be remembered as a human rights hero and one of history’s most important whistleblowers. A presidential pardon for Snowden would be a brave affirmation of citizens’ right to hold governments to account when power is abused.
We know your last days in office are filled with many demands. We hope you will recognize the importance of addressing the fate of this American whistleblower.
Anthony D. Romero
American Civil Liberties Union
Human Rights Watch