In 2013, Edward Snowden, a contractor with the NSA, leaked documents to journalists that exposed the United States mass surveillance program of Americans’ telephone records. When Snowden leaked the documents, he fled immediately to Russia as he was, and still is, facing US espionage changes.
However, seven years later on September 2, 2020, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit said that the U.S. surveillance of phone records was indeed illegal. In the ruling they said “the metadata collection exceeded the scope of Congress’s authorization … which required the government to make a showing of relevance to a particular authorized investigation before collecting the records …” and the U.S. government agency went as far as to give credit to Snowden for exposing the practice.
Given that the U.S. Court of Appeals, and many leading US politicians, including President Trump have now come to Snowden’s defense, there is only one course of action left to take: the U.S. must pardon Snowden and allow him to safely return to his family and home country the United States.
In a post on Twitter following the ruling, Snowden said: “Seven years ago, as the news declared I was being charged as a criminal for speaking the truth, I never imagined that I would live to see our courts condemn the NSA’s activities as unlawful and in the same ruling credit me for exposing them.” He continued: “and yet that day has arrived.” It is that credit to him, given by the courts that shows his actions were justified and should be protected under whistleblower laws.
Snowden exposed what we now know was an illegal practice and his act of whistleblowing was justified in defense of Americans’ freedom and privacy rights.
Following the 2013 leak, many lawmakers tried to claim Snowden leaked this information to foreign leaders or put our spies and or military personnel lives at risk. In the wake of Trump’s announcement, he would look into pardoning Snowden, his Attorney general, William Barr said he was opposed to such a suggestion.
"He was a traitor, and the information he provided our adversaries greatly hurt the safety of the American people," Barr said. "He was peddling it around like a commercial merchant. We can't tolerate that."
The Ninth Circuit Court ruling hasn’t only divided Republicans such as Barr, or Congresswoman Liz Cheney who called Snowden a “traitor,” but also Democrats. Susan Rice, former national security adviser and former ambassador to the United Nations attacked GOP lawmakers who called for Snowden’s pardon, trying to claim that the Republicans were now on the side of treason.
Yet in depth evaluation by the Ninth Circuit proves that Snowden is clearly not a traitor, and this court ruling shows he did not commit treason. He released these documents because he cares about the privacy rights promised to U.S. citizens and wants to protect those rights. He did not release info to the public or to any foreign country. He also did not make public any information that could cause harm to the American people, and the journalists who were entrusted with such documents made sure of it.
Glenn Greenwald, co-founder of the Intercept told The Guardian that there are “thousands upon thousands of documents” that journalists have chosen not to publish because they would harm peoples’ reputation or privacy rights or because it would expose “legitimate surveillance programs.”
“It’s been almost five years since newspapers around the world began reporting on the Snowden archive and the NSA has offered all kinds of shrill and reckless rhetoric about the ‘damage’ it has caused, but never any evidence of a single case of a life being endangered let alone harmed,” Greenwald said.
What Snowden did was seen by many as heroic. He exposed, at the risk to his own life and personal safety, the illegal actions of the US government. He did so securely, and without greed. He didn’t sell his secrets, he exposed them, freely to trusted journalists who took great care to not put any American, or anyone else’s lives at risk.
It is time for the U.S. government and citizens to thank Edward Snowden for his bravery and apologize to him for forcing him into exile. Edward Snowden, in the end, did the right thing by notifying the public of illegal privacy violations, and it’s time he come home.