By Jenna Palme ‘17
President Obama’s days in office are ending, and in these last few months there is a push for the president to make a big decision; to pardon or not to pardon Edward Snowden. Snowden’s been living under political asylum in Russia for the past three years, and it’s time for him to come home.
In the summer of 2013, Snowden went to two journalists, Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald, with some serious information regarding national security. Snowden previously freelanced for the National Security Agency (NSA) and found information that he believed the public should know. The NSA is monitoring the phones of citizens of the United States without their consent. Both the president and the head of the NSA swore that they were not monitoring the American people without their knowledge.
There was a certain program titled XKeyscore, which gives the agency access to just about everything someone does on the Internet. If a worker were to search someone’s name, they would be able to find whatever the person has put on the Internet, both publically and privately. Snowden witnessed the use of XKeyscore during his time as a freelance worker for the NSA. He was never actually an employee of the government when he leaked the information.
Snowden was upset with how the government was monitoring the citizens of the United States without their permission. People are giving up their privacy for security, but the public has no say in whether they actually want to give up that privacy. Snowden believed the public should know and advance their knowledge on the subject rather than stay in the dark about it for the rest of their lives.
Once this information leaked, the government was immediately after Snowden, who was in Hong Kong, where he hoped to find political asylum. There was no hope for him to stay in China, so Snowden had to find another country to live or he would come back to the United States and likely face an unfair trial. Eventually, he found his way to Russia with the help of people from Wikileaks. Snowden has been living in Russia for over three years now, and with the end of the Obama administration coming up, it seems like the perfect time for Snowden to return.
In July of 2015, 168,000 people signed a petition for Obama to pardon Snowden, but the White House rejected it because the leaks were “dangerous to national security”. Snowden didn’t just leak all the documents to the public; he filtered it through journalists and destroyed his own personal copy of the data so no one else could retrieve it to use it against the United States. The journalists with the data didn’t publish everything that was available to them, as the main focus was the surveillance of phone calls and Internet data.
Both of the current presidential candidates won’t pardon him if they’re elected, so Obama is the only chance Snowden has until Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton leaves office; even then, the next candidates might not give him the chance he deserves either.
Trump believes Snowden to be a traitor and wants to treat him as such if he were ever to return to the United States. This is the exact reason Snowden doesn’t want to come back; he would be made into a martyr for whistleblowers everywhere. He doesn’t want other whistleblowers to fear leaking information that they believe the people have the right to know. Many whistleblowers remain anonymous, like the one from the Panama Papers, because they fear the consequences the action could have on their loved ones and themselves. They shouldn’t have to worry about such things, when in many cases whistleblowers are doing a public service.
Clinton, on the other hand, claims Snowden should come to the U.S. where he would face a “fair” trial. She says that he could’ve been protected under the Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA), but this is not true. The WPA only protects government employees, and Snowden did not directly work for the government, therefore it doesn’t apply to him.
As for the petition making its rounds currently, there hasn’t been a response from the White House yet. The online petition that can be found on pardonsnowden.org has thousands of signatures from people around the world. While there’s still a lot of the public who don’t know about Snowden and what he did or believe he’s a traitor to the country, there are hundreds of thousands who want to see him back where he belongs, at home in the United States.