President Barack Obama should place himself on the right side of history by pardoning whistleblower Edward Snowden, who faces the possibility of decades in prison for speaking out to defend human rights, said Amnesty International, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Human Rights Watch and a host of other organizations and individuals as they launched a global petition today.
Ahead of an upcoming Oliver Stone film about Snowden’s whistleblowing and exile in Russia in 2013, the campaign is calling for a presidential pardon for the former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor before President Obama leaves office.
“Edward Snowden clearly acted in the public interest. He sparked one of the most important debates about government surveillance in decades, and brought about a global movement in defense of privacy in the digital age. Punishing him for this sends out the dangerous message that those who witness human rights violations behind closed doors should not speak out,” said Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s Secretary General.
“It is ironic that it is Snowden who is being treated like a spy when his act of courage drew attention to the fact that the U.S. and UK governments were illegally spying on millions of people without their consent.
“The mass surveillance exposed by Snowden impacts the human rights of people around the world. Our new campaign gives the public a chance to call for his pardon and thank him for triggering action by concerned individuals around the world to take back their privacy.”
In June 2013, Edward Snowden shared with journalists a cache of U.S. intelligence documents that he had gathered while working as an NSA security contractor. The documents revealed the extent of the U.S. and UK governments’ electronic surveillance operations, which were monitoring the internet and phone activity of millions of people across the world.
In response to reporting of Snowden’s revelations, President Obama issued a directive requiring intelligence agencies to make significant changes to U.S. surveillance practices. In 2015 Congress reined in the government’s surveillance authority for the first time in nearly four decades, after a federal appeals court found that the NSA’s collection of information about virtually every domestic phone call was illegal.
Amnesty International has repeatedly called on the U.S. government to drop the charges against Edward Snowden, or to guarantee him a public interest defense in the event of his case going to trial.
But more than three years after his revelations Snowden remains in limbo in Russia, under the shadow of World War I-era espionage laws which could see him charged with serious felonies if he returns to the U.S. A presidential pardon is Snowden’s best chance of freedom.
“Snowden should be remembered as a human rights champion for the public service he performed. It will be a deep stain on President Obama’s legacy if he leaves office with Snowden still in exile in Russia, separated from his family and treated like an enemy of the state,” said Shetty.
“The charges against Edward Snowden come from hopelessly outdated laws and should never have been made in the first place. We are now calling on our supporters to join us in urging President Obama to address a gross injustice, and send the message that whistleblowers and others who act in the name of human rights will be protected.”
Ben Wizner, Edward Snowden's attorney and director of the ACLU's Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, said:
"Cases like Edward Snowden's are precisely the reason the pardon power exists. While some U.S. presidents have used that power to pardon people who committed reprehensible acts, President Obama has the opportunity to recognize one of the most significant acts of whistleblowing in modern history. In light of Snowden's very concrete contributions to democratic debate worldwide, we should be talking about how to thank him, not how to punish him."
The petition is available at pardonsnowden.org (for U.S. residents) and at here (for people outside the U.S.).
Under Article II, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution, U.S. presidents have the power to grant pardons to individuals for federal offenses.