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White House promises to speed up petition responses, now works with Change.org

Hilke Kurzke / Flickr

Well, now we know why the White House has finally responded to a two-year-old petition to pardon Edward Snowden: it's clearing its backlog for some tweaks to the whole system. In a statement published today, the White House said it had just worked through 20 unanswered petitions submitted through its "We the People" platform; it's responded to a total of 275 since the system launched in 2011. Now, it's promising to respond to any petitions that meet its threshold within 60 days.

In order to receive a response, a petition must hit 100,000 signatures within 30 days — a number that was raised from 30,000 in January of 2013. Under the new 60-day deadline, the process "is going to look a little different," writes chief digital officer Jason Goldman. Based on the statement, that involves a new panel of people who will coordinate responses. And in a somewhat bigger change, massive petition site Change.org is now integrating with We the People, which means that signatures collected there can count towards the 100,000 total. (We the People started letting outside sites collect signatures back in late 2013.)

White House petitions have wrought genuine change in the past few years. Perhaps most prominently, a 2013 request to legalize cellphone unlocking led to the Obama administration coming out in favor of the practice. Several members of Congress subsequently introduced supporting bills, and one was signed into law last August. It's also answered pressing social questions like the economic viability of building a Death Star. Current petitions include a proposal to recognize the Ku Klux Klan as a terrorist organization, several requests to let military personnel or veterans to carry concealed weapons, and a number of petitions concerning police brutality.