Edward Snowden is a divisive figure in recent American history. He leaked confidential documents that showed the National Security Agency was secretly monitoring millions of Americans through their phones and computers. Some say this makes him a hero; the U.S. government said he should be tried for treason.
Snowden was officially charged with giving classified information to unauthorized parties, disclosing communications intelligence information and theft of government property, which could put him in jail for as long as 30 years, according to unsealed government documents obtained by The Washington Post and reported June 21, 2013.
Although Snowden has been living comfortably in Russia, which granted him temporary asylum and then a three-year residence permit, according to an Aug. 17, 2014 article by The Guardian, the American Civil Liberties Union and Amnesty International have begun a campaign and petition to ask President Barack Obama to officially pardon him for his crimes before Obama leaves office in January.
The website PardonSnowden.org has a countdown clock, putting pressure on the current administration to bite the bullet and grant Snowden political amnesty. He has been living in exile since 2013, and it is time for the country to move on.
There could have been better ways for Snowden to serve justice without violating the law to the extent he did. He especially could have avoided working with Russia, although he has claimed he did not share his NSA data with his hosts, according to an Oct. 17, 2013 New York Times article.
Snowden’s contribution to individual privacy is undeniable. Because of Snowden’s whistleblowing, it is now illegal for the NSA to monitor U.S. citizens without probable cause as a result of the USA Freedom Act passed by Congress in 2015. He also revolutionized the way citizens see the U.S. government and its capabilities.
The Obama administration has denied previous pardon requests from Snowden, and it’s likely it will deny this one as well. However, the denial only keeps the scandal fresh in citizens’ minds for longer than it has to be. Snowden has asylum in Russia until 2017, and this could possibly be extended even longer, so the U.S. will probably never get to try him in court. This makes the denial of a pardon a specific statement, and it shows that the government does not realize the error in the secretive and unfortunate acts Snowden made public. To deny Snowden amnesty ignores the overall benefit he provided to the nation.
With so many human rights organizations backing him, Snowden’s amnesty should be a given. Snowden, while not a perfect whistleblower, and perhaps not even a national hero, made a great sacrifice to inform the American public, and for that, the U.S. should pardon him.