Our favorite NSA whistleblower joined Twitter last night, sharing jokes with Neil DeGrasse Tyson about the U.S. government canceling his passport as he garnered more than a million followers in less than 24 hours. Edward Snowden, who has lived in Russia since leaking thousands of documents about U.S. mass surveillance to journalists, has been a polarizing figure in Washington since blowing the whistle on the NSA. This served as a rare moment of consensus as politicians from both sides of the aisle tripped over one another to denounce him. President Obama dismissed him as “some hacker” as Clinton charged that his actions helped terrorists while presidential candidates Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and —of course— Donald Trump all denounced him. Leaving aside the fact Snowden himself has said he did not bring any documents with him to Russia and such claims of his cooperation are not based in fact, the rush to denounce him shifts attention away from where the U.S. public should be looking: the three-letter agency who violated the constitution and the former intelligence chief who lied to Congress. Obama is wrong to target one whistleblower who revealed the extent to which the government had betrayed the trust of the public. He should pardon Snowden, allowing him to come home in time to vote for the 2016 election.
Two common criticisms of Snowden revolve around his status as a Muscovite and the fact that he leaked documents rather than working with the NSA to address his concerns. These arguments are easily debunked. First, Snowden has said that Moscow was never meant to be his final destination. After he left Hong Kong, the U.S. government revoked his passport, effectively stranding him in place. Additionally, Snowden claims to have raised his concerns about the domestic surveillance program with NSA superiors before blowing the whistle.
Framing Snowden’s actions solely in the dichotomy of legal and illegal is too reductionist. Anti-sodomy laws existed in the United States until 2003 despite the growing national call for marriage rights, while marijuana, which illegal in 46 states, currently stands as the most commonly-used illicit drug. Slavery, too, was legal in the United States for much of the 19th century. People must not rely on legality as the sole lens with which to judge Snowden’s actions. His actions must be weighed against the revelation that the NSA was vastly overstepping its mandate and going far beyond the bounds of the constitution.
For a country born in revolution, many in the media and the beltway are quick to scorn an act of conscience, a rebellion against what one man saw as government tyranny. Since former U.S. president Jimmy Carter has said he would consider granting Snowden clemency, Snowden supporters have two options: starting a petition for a second Carter presidency, or petitioning Obama to give Snowden clemency. Given how all presidential candidates have been forced to take a stance on domestic surveillance one way or another, it is only right that he be allowed back to the United States to vote in 2016. Obama must drop the charges against Snowden and allow him home.
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