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Online Petitioners Call for White House to "Pardon" Edward Snowden

BY Miranda Neubauer | Monday, June 24 2013

A We the People petition to pardon NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden has reached the 100,000 signature threshold needed for a White House response, but for at least one group of Snowden supporters that petition might be one step too far at the moment.

"We don't think he should be charged," said Zaid Jilani, an investigative blogger and campaigner for the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, which has been raising money for a possible Snowden legal defense fund. "You can't pardon anyone until they've been convicted. Maybe that petition is a little premature."

Snowden has been charged with espionage for leaking classified documents to the Washington Post and the British newspaper The Guardian. Those documents show that the U.S. government has been collecting information on Americans' phone calls, and, under a separate program, collecting the communications of foreigners. In some cases, intelligence officials can keep Americans' communications that are inadvertently collected, according to the documents. The oversight structure for these sweeping surveillance programs is now under public scrutiny.

Jilani said the group supported a statement issued by Amnesty International today which said that the U.S. must not prosecute Snowdon because his disclosures were protected by freedom of speech and that "he is being charged by the US government primarily for revealing its and other governments’ unlawful actions that violate human rights.”

The PCCC's fundraising campaign, which began two weeks ago on ActBlue, has raised $25,000, according to Jilani, coming from over 1,300 donations that averaged around $22.

"The main reason we did it is because we think what he did is heroic [by revealing] that the government lied to us," Jilani said, referring to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper's past statements about surveillance of Americans.

He said that PCCC is part of the Stop Watching Us campaign, which according to a tweet by Free Press has collected close to 500,000 signatures protesting the surveillance programs Snowden's leaks have disclosed.

Jilani also said that the PCCC had run online ads criticizing Senators Lindsey Graham and Dianne Feinstein for their denunciations of Snowden.

Of the legislative efforts already announced in response to the revelations, Jilani said a bill introduced by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) that would require the Justice Department to unseal FISA court opinions and a bill introduced by Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fl.) that would remove the ability of the government to collect records of Americans without probable cause would be among the ones the PCCC would support, while the group also plans to take a close look at upcoming legislative proposals.

Politico recently outlined the difficulties that surveillance legislation faces in Congress, given other priorities such as immigration and questionable support from Majority Leader Harry Reid and other prominent Congressional leaders.

Asked about reports today that Snowden may have chosen to work for defense contractor Booz Allen in order to gain access to NSA records, Jilani said PCCC was focused on his revelations. "We think the big story is about what he unveiled ... that he revealed the fact that the government wasn't truthful. We definitely support him being a whistleblower."

Jilani said the PCCC had already been in touch with other privacy and civil liberties about how to deliver the funds to a legal defense fund when it is in place.

The White House petition, which now has just over 113,000 signatures, was started on June 9 by a user in Rochester, NY. The White House has promised to respond to petitions which receive more than 100,000 signatures, although that response is sometimes an explanation of why the administration cannot comment.