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Edward Snowden

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has been quick to call for a pardon for Edward Snowden. The organization noted “Thanks to Edward Snowden’s act of conscience, we’ve made historic strides in our fight for surveillance reform and improved cybersecurity. That’s why today, ahead of this week’s release of the Oliver Stone movie ‘Snowden,’ we’re unveiling a major effort calling on President Obama to pardon the NSA whistleblower.”

Meanwhile, the New York Times published an Op-Ed piece that called for a pardon of Snowden citing the “important public debate” his revelations have sparked in the country. Hillary Clinton has said Mr. Snowden shouldn’t be brought home “without facing the music.” Donald J. Trump has said, “I think he’s a total traitor and I would deal with him harshly.” The American people have a right to privacy. Jill Stein (Green Party nominee for US President), said: “her hope is that Obama uses his power to pardon Snowden now.”  Obama would not call Snowden a “whistleblower.” Instead, he would view his activities as national security violations. It is unclear what punishment he would seek.

The House Intelligence Committee on Thursday sent a letter to President Obama urging him not to pardon Edward Snowden, and characterized Snowden as “a disgruntled employee” whose leak caused “tremendous damage to national security,” the Times reported.


We understand that some of the backers behind a Snowden pardon  (see this partial list), take the position that the public interest in learning about international human rights violations outweigh the government’s national security interests. In other words, “no one should be prosecuted for exposing human rights violations.” Additionally, there is the obvious concern that the government has no business spying on American citizens absent adequate (legal) cause for doing so. 

We agree with the New York Times position. Stated plainly, the useful value of clandestine snooping on Americans (and allies) is outweighed by the fundamental wrongness of such spying. The country loses credibility with our allies and seriously infringe on the human rights (privacy) of the people of the U.S. when they surreptitiously pure into the often personal, sensitive and confidential conversations and interactions with the American public. However, on balance, the government’s  invasive actions cannot completely justify Snowden’s retaliatory sweeping leaks, but they do mitigate against the seriousness of his crimes. 

We do not see a need for imprisonment but the actions taken by Snowden cannot be totally ignored. Moreover, if Snowden is required to face a trial in the U.S., he should not be prohibited from explaining his rationale for doing what he did. We think the current law that prevents a defendant from explaining such a rationale in a national security case violates due process. Snowden should be able to return to the U.S. without fearing a draconian prison sentence. As an alternative to prison, he could be used by security experts to improve security technology– perhaps, this could be understood as community service in lieu of jail.  

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