Edward Snowden speaks via video link at a news conference for the launch of a campaign calling for President Obama to pardon him on September 14, 2016 in New York City.
Spencer Platt—Getty Images
By David Z. Morris
January 14, 2017

The Pardon Snowden campaign says it delivered a petition with more than 1 million signatures to the White House on Friday, showing widespread support for dropping charges against America’s most notorious whistleblower.

The petition was accompanied by a letter from the heads of the ACLU, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch that lays out the case for a pardon. The letter focuses on the fact that Snowden’s revelations triggered efforts across the U.S. government to limit or end several of the NSA’s domestic surveillance programs, as well as triggering a national dialogue on privacy and pushing technology companies to increase their use of encryption.

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For those very reasons, many in the technology industry consider Snowden something of a hero. Similarly, Oliver Stone’s 2016 biopic Snowden depicted its central figure as driven almost exclusively by the highest principles of democracy and transparency.

However, admiration for Snowden is far from universal. The documents he leaked included extensive information about U.S. intelligence operations abroad which posed no threat to Americans’ privacy. A House report concluded last year that Snowden’s leak “caused tremendous damage to national security.” The report also cast doubt on basic elements of Snowden’s version of events, particularly his claim that he had broached his concerns with NSA officials before going public.

A House committee also concluded in December that Snowden has had continued contact with Russian intelligence services since the leaks. That is arguably unsurprising, since Snowden is now in exile in Moscow, and the report provided little detail on the nature of those contacts. But the inference is that Snowden is somehow a Russian partisan, a particular point of concern as intelligence agencies accuse Russian leadership of directing hacks against U.S. political parties during the 2016 election.

For more on the NSA and privacy, watch our video.

President Obama has been cagey about his stance on Snowden. While he has had put a positive spin on the reforms triggered by the NSA leak, the President has previously expressed hesitation when it comes to a pardon. In part, Obama has made the tenuous argument that Snowden cannot be pardoned because he has not surrendered himself to the U.S. legal system. It seems unlikely that even a massive stack of signatures will push Obama to reverse that position.

President-elect Donald Trump, who will be sworn into office in less than a week, has been even less sympathetic to Snowden, in 2013 going as far as to imply that Snowden should be executed.

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