On July 28, 2015, the White House responded to a petition requesting a pardon for Edward Snowden. The petition, created over two years ago, was submitted through the government platform We the People, which requires the White House to respond to any petition that receives 100,000 signatures within 30 days of its publication.  It easily reached this threshold and since then has garnered well over 160,000 signatures from American citizens in support of the pardon. The language of the petition lauds Snowden as a “national hero, ” and urges the government to provide a “full, free, and absolute pardon” for his actions. The U.S. government has charged Snowden with three felonies under the Espionage Act of 1917. Each charge carries a maximum sentence of ten years. The law prohibits him from arguing a defense based upon the public interest.

The existence of the petition, along with the government’s two-year delay in responding to it, demonstrates the controversial nature of the NSA leak. The leak resulted in a great deal of backlash against the government’s surveillance tactics and sparked greater conversations regarding the need to balance civil liberties with efforts to keep Americans safe. Ultimately, the White House’s response acknowledged the difficulties of achieving this balance, but did not condone Snowden’s behavior. Lisa Monaco, the president’s advisor on homeland security and counterterrorism, called Snowden’s actions “dangerous” in the face of grave security threats including terrorism, cyber-attacks, and nuclear proliferation. She asked that Snowden return to the United States to be judged by a jury of his peers and face the consequences of his actions.

Snowden, who received asylum in Russia, has not expressed any regrets. He recently stated that becoming an “international fugitive” was worth it based upon the public good that came out of his actions. He does not plan on surrendering himself to the U.S. government.

Allison Laubach

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