Though he narrowly finished behind Pope Francis as a runner-up for Time’s 2013 Person of the Year, Edward Snowden no doubt had a significant impact on the world last year. The reverberations from his revelations on government spying are still being felt, and if we do indeed see progress on privacy issues in the year ahead there is no doubt that Snowden should share a considerable amount of the credit.
Yet as a new year comes upon us, Snowden remains holed up in Russia and the Obama Administration continues to seek prosecution for him under the World War I-era Espionage Act, with penalties up to life in prison. While many have already expressed support for him since he blew the whistle on some of the NSA’s most invasive spy programs, Snowden received two major endorsements in the opening hours of 2014 that we hope will foreshadow even more in the months to come.
On January 1st, both the New York Times and the Guardian called on President Obama to recognize Snowden’s role in exposing illegal government activity and sparking a global debate on privacy and democracy. Each newspaper wrote strong editorials urging that Snowden be allowed to return to the United States with protection from excessive punishment.
The ACLU is proud to be doing our part as well, and last Sunday our own Ben Wizner - who serves as a legal advisor to Snowden - appeared on NBC's Meet The Press. Wizner is the director of the ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project, and he was actually here in Maine just a few months ago for a panel discussion on privacy issues at the Camden Film Festival. You can catch his full appearance on Meet The Press here, where he states that Snowden’s disclosures “have been profoundly valuable to the country and to the world” and encourages the U.S. government to "look forward" and recognize Snowden's contributions.
We don’t know what lies ahead for Edward Snowden in 2014, nor do we know what will happen with the NSA’s spying programs. One thing is for sure, though: if we all become apathetic and decide it no longer matters anymore, there’s little hope for progress on either front. If you want to get things started, take a moment and add your voice to this petition urging President Obama to grant Snowden immunity. Hopefully the new year can bring us meaningful reforms for the NSA and a path home for the whistleblower who helped bring their invasive spying to the front pages of newspapers all around the world.