More than two years later, after more than 160,000 people signed an official White House petition asking that the administration pardon Edward Snowden, the government is finally responding. But the people who signed the petition, which called the former National Security Agency contractor who revealed information about government snooping a national hero, aren't likely to be pleased with the response.
"Since taking office, President Obama has worked with Congress to secure appropriate reforms that balance the protection of civil liberties with the ability of national security professionals to secure information vital to keep Americans safe," wrote Lisa Monaco, the president's adviser on homeland security and counterterrorism. "Instead of constructively addressing these issues, Mr. Snowden's dangerous decision to steal and disclose classified information had severe consequences for the security of our country and the people who work day in and day out to protect it," she said.
Monaco went on to call for Snowden to return from Russia to the United States, where he faces criminal charges:
If he felt his actions were consistent with civil disobedience, then he should do what those who have taken issue with their own government do: Challenge it, speak out, engage in a constructive act of protest, and -- importantly -- accept the consequences of his actions. 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. Right now, he's running away from the consequences of his actions.
We live in a dangerous world. We continue to face grave security threats like terrorism, cyber-attacks, and nuclear proliferation that our intelligence community must have all the lawful tools it needs to address. The balance between our security and the civil liberties that our ideals and our Constitution require deserves robust debate and those who are willing to engage in it here at home.
Snowden currently faces three felony charges under the Espionage Act of 1917, a World War I-era law that doesn't allow for a public interest defense -- so he would be unable to argue in court that his decision to give classified documents to journalists was for the greater good.
The Snowden response was part of a larger push by the White House to clear out a backlog of petitions on its We the People platform that had met the threshold meriting a response but not yet received responses.
White House chief digital officer Jason Goldman explained that this is part of a larger shift in a blog post on Medium. "[F]rom now on, if a petition meets the signature goal within a designated period of time, we will aim to respond to it — with an update or policy statement — within 60 days wherever possible."