In a press conference in midtown Manhattan today, Edward Snowden and his legal team officially launched their long-rumored campaign for a presidential pardon. The campaign includes an open letter to urging President Obama to enact the pardon, currently collecting signatures at PardonSnowden.org
"It is clear that America’s democracy has benefited from Snowden’s actions," the letter reads, "and I am confident he will be remembered as a whistleblower and patriot." Early signers include Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, Creative Commons founder Laurence Lessig, and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak.
"I love my country. I love my family."
Snowden, who appeared through a telepresence robot, said he was "moved beyond words by the outpouring of support" but saw the issue as larger than himself. "This really isn’t about me," Snowden told the crowd. "It’s about us. It’s about our right to dissent. It’s about the kind of country we want to have."
The campaign includes representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International, as well as ACLU attorney Ben Wizner, who has led Snowden’s defense thus far. Notably, Snowden said he does not consider himself a part of the campaign, seeing the broader decision on whistleblowing as too important to be limited to a single person. Nonetheless, he appeared in support of the launch of the campaign and spoke at length about the importance of the clemency decision.
"I love my country. I love my family," Snowden continued. "I don't know where we're going from here. I don't know what tomorrow looks like. But I'm glad for the decisions I've made. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined, three years ago, such an outpouring of solidarity."
Snowden also spoke out against weakening encryption standards through government backdoors. "We live today in the greatest crisis of computer security that we have ever seen," Snowden said. "It is only by prioritizing the improvement of our computer security — above our occasional desire to defeat it — that we will be able to protect critical infrastructure such as power plants, air traffic control systems, and water supplies in the years to come."
The pardon is particularly important for Snowden because of the strict powers of the Espionage Act. Initially drafted to prosecute foreign agents, the law has no provisions for disclosures in the public interest. As a result, it’s unlikely Snowden could escape jail time in an Espionage Act trial.
In an editorial earlier this year, The Verge argued that President Obama should pardon Snowden as a way of reclaiming his troubled legacy on transparency issues.