Sure, Edward Snowden may have broken the law. But morally and ethically, he did the right thing, he told the Guardian in an interview published Tuesday.
Snowden drew international attention to internet privacy and security issues when he handed over documents to journalists three years ago that detailed secret government surveillance programs. Snowden told the Guardian his actions encouraged others to speak out against government overreach. What's more, he says he didn't hurt anyone.
Situations like Snowden's are the reason the pardon power exists, he went on to say, "for the things that may seem unlawful in letters on a page but when we look at them morally, when we look at them ethically, when we look at the results, it seems these were necessary things, these were vital things."
His remarks come three days before a Hollywood movie based on his life and disclosures is set to debut. Oliver Stone's "Snowden" takes a dramatic and sympathetic look at the revelations and their aftermath, showing Snowden's transformation from a pro-government CIA analyst to a dissenter with patriotic motivations.
President Barack Obama has shown no signs of intending to pardon Snowden, whom he has declined to call a patriot and criticized for setting a bad example for other intelligence workers. Not everyone in government appears to agree with him, however. Former Attorney General Eric Holder said in May that Snowden performed a "public service."
At a press briefing Monday, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the president still believes Snowden should return to the US to face his charges.
"With regard to the impact that he has had on the broader debate, the fact is the manner in which Mr. Snowden chose to disclose this information damaged the United States, harmed our national security, and put the American people at greater risk," Earnest said.
Stone spoke critically of the charges against Snowden in a statement ahead of the movie's release. "Can he be given a fair trial in the United States? One doubts that, given the charges Mr. Obama and the Justice Department have leveled against him and seven others under the Espionage Act," Stone said. "It's a dangerous precedent for our country."
Though in a self-imposed exile from the US, Snowden still has an outsized influence on public discussion of privacy and surveillance, Stone told CNET in a Q&A.
"[Snowden is] very involved in reforming the internet," Stone said. "He's the one who's strongly endorsed encryption. The corporations which were formerly collaborating with the government changed their policies, and they went after the idea that they would sell encryption to their customers."