An online petition asking the White House to pardon National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden has reached 100,000 signatures, passing a threshold that now requires an official response from the Obama administration.
The "We the People" petition launched on June 9, calling for Snowden to be pardoned for any crime he may have committed. At the time, Snowden, formerly employed by contractor Booz Allen Hamilton as an NSA systems analyst in Hawaii, had admitted leaking top-secret information to news outlets revealing how the NSA secretly collects phone records and large amounts of Internet data through a program called Prism. It was later revealed that Snowden took information out of NSA facilities using a thumb drive.
On June 21, U.S. prosecutors charged Snowden with espionage, as well as theft and conversion of government property. Each charge carries a maximum of 10 years in federal prison.
"Edward Snowden is a national hero and should be immediately issued a full, free, and absolute pardon for any crimes he has committed or may have committed related to blowing the whistle on secret NSA surveillance programs," the petition reads.
It is unclear whether the Obama administration will respond, however, considering the sensitive subject matter.
In the past, White House officials have used petition responses as policy enforcers and have sometimes been playful, most notably responding in early 2013 to a petition asking the White House to build a Death Star, the world-destroying ship from the Star Wars trilogy.
Snowden's leaks sparked a nationwide conversation on national security and privacy that continues to evolve, making him a hero to some and a traitor to others. Top federal officials have hailed Prism surveillance efforts and phone records metadata collection as an important national security tool that has stopped several terrorist attacks. Privacy advocates, as well as officials from some other countries, have said the NSA's efforts are too intrusive.
On June 21, after the charges were filed against Snowden, U.S. officials formally requested the Hong Kong government extradite Snowden, but Hong Kong officials refused, with the nation claiming it needed more information. Snowden's whereabouts are currently unknown -- he reportedly left Hong Kong for Moscow with help from the Wikileaks organization, and is thought to travelling though Cuba and/or Venezuela en route to Ecuador, where he has requested asylum. Ecuador has been sheltering Wikileaks head Julian Assange, who is also wanted by U.S. authorities, for the past year.
(By Frank Konkel)