Ever the optimist, Edward Snowden is hoping President Barack Obama will pardon him before leaving the White House come January. And public support for him is growing. In fact, the ACLU is leading a petition to urge the President for a pardon with some pretty high-profile signatures added to it so far.
In a lengthy interview with the Guardian, the former National Security Agency contractor made a plea for clemency by arguing his 2013 leak of classified government documents was both morally right and has left citizens better off.
“Yes, there are laws on the books that say one thing, but that is perhaps why the pardon power exists – for the exceptions, for the things that may seem unlawful in letters on a page but when we look at them morally, when we look at them ethically, when we look at the results, it seems these were necessary things, these were vital things,” Snowden said via video link from Moscow, where is currently in exile.
But it’s highly unlikely Snowden will ever get the leniency he’s looking for during Obama’s term. The administration has spent too much time painting him as a criminal for that. And his chances are even more slim under either a Trump or Clinton presidency.
What makes this movement more compelling isn’t so much his likelihood of getting back home within the year as it resurfaces the conversation around security, privacy, and the kind of state U.S. citizens live in now three years after the leaks. This all comes to us during an unprecedented election season chock full of rhetoric about foreign state-led espionage, government surveillance, and Authoritarian-leaning policy ideas.
“Unfortunately, many candidates in the political mainstream today, even pundits and commentators who aren’t running for office, believe we have to be able to do anything, no matter what, as long as there is some benefit to be had in doing so,” Snowden said. “But that is the logic of a police state.”
Snowden himself didn’t want to become a poster child for the data privacy movement. But he acknowledges the collective need to latch onto narratives that feature a compelling central character (ahem, Oliver Stone just made a whole movie lionizing him Hollywood-style). We just can’t help asking ourselves again and again who Snowden is in our collective consciousness, a whistleblowing hero or a misguided traitor.
The national ambivalence could be epitomized in the words of Timothy Edgar, the former director of privacy and civil liberties on Obama’s national security team. Though an ardent defender for Snowden, even he had to concede: “Snowden’s actions caused great damage to national security.”
And while we continue to mull over Snowden’s legacy, he continues to hope he can finally take off his mantle and fade into the background. “I really hope it is over,” he said. “That would be the greatest gift anyone could give me.”