Column: Why President Obama should pardon Edward Snowden

POTUS has an unique opportunity to pardon the NSA whistleblower.

Hunter Gilbert is a freshman at MU. He is an opinion columnist that writes about rights and tech for The Maneater.

Edward Snowden has been referenced with multiple titles: traitor, coward, hero, patriot.

Snowden is known for releasing sensitive information about government surveillance through organizations such as the National Security Agency. The initial story published by The Guardian revealed that Verizon was handing over all of its users’ data on a day-to-day basis under a top-secret court order. For releasing the documents, Edward Snowden was charged under the Espionage Act of 1917. He has been a fugitive in Russia ever since he released the documents, excluding a brief period of time in Hong Kong.

This should not be the case. Edward Snowden did a public service by exposing government programs that bypass information security and arguably infringe on Fourth Amendment rights. In order to add credibility to and salvage the notion of his administration being one of transparency, President Barack Obama should pardon Edward Snowden.

Anyone who supports an open, free and secure internet as a whole should back Snowden. No one should have to fear being watched by the government during Skype video chats. An average law-abiding citizen should not be monitored electronically constantly, especially without a warrant. The Snowden leak revealed that numerous cellular and internet service providers can give away access to the monitoring of their users if asked by the government. In addition, the tapping of other foreign nation’s businesses, embassies and elected offices was also revealed. All of this occurred under the public’s eye without any formal acknowledgement by the federal government. This Orwellian-style oversight is concerning for anyone that holds personal privacy dear.

Some have argued that the exposing of various federal programs such as PRISM and various other information collective programs have damaged the overall integrity of the intelligence branch of the federal government. This is more or less true; the leaks and data provided by Snowden did make other sovereign nations aware of the data collection by the U.S. through previously unknown means. Secrecy is an aspect of espionage and data collection that is essential.

However, there are set ways of collecting the data in question through specific legal proceedings. This practice of acquiring data without a warrant or probable cause means that these government initiatives can circumnavigate laws and rights that were specifically put in place to halt unlawful seizure. In other words, government agencies can be secretive about data collection. It is essential for their function, but they need to work within the same rules as everyone else.

Amnesty International and the ACLU are already pressing for a pardon for Snowden. The Obama administration maintains the stance that Snowden must stand trial for his “dangerous decision to steal and disclose classified information.” There is no argument that Snowden did not break the law, so a pardon is called for due to the circumstance. Nonetheless, the White House believes that “he should come home to the United States, and be judged by a jury of his peers — not hide behind the cover of an authoritarian regime.”

One can argue that Snowden would more than likely not receive a fair trial, given the current administration's harsh treatment of whistleblowers. Since Snowden faces charges under the Espionage Act, he would be prohibited from making a proper case in court. In other words, he would not be given the right to even explain the thought process or basis of his actions to a jury. It would be a rigged trial that would treat him like a 20th century spy, even though he did not reveal any sensitive data to any sovereign nation, just a small team of journalists. These journalists reported on the information with the thought and best interests of the people of this nation in mind.

Edward Snowden is a hero, someone who championed the rights of every individual in this nation. He directly influenced the handling of the public’s general data. This would not have occurred had he not revealed these secretive documents.

Edward Snowden took a pledge to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” In the end, Snowden stood by this pledge.

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