ACLU: 'Obama, grant Edward Snowden immunity now'

Days before the president is scheduled to announce possible reform proposals to the NSA's surveillance programs, the civil liberties group creates a petition calling for Snowden's amnesty.

Dara Kerr Former senior reporter
Dara Kerr was a senior reporter for CNET covering the on-demand economy and tech culture. She grew up in Colorado, went to school in New York City and can never remember how to pronounce gif.
Dara Kerr
2 min read
The ACLU is calling for Edward Snowden's immunity. Laura Poitras/The Guardian/Screenshot by CNET

In anticipation of President Barack Obama's speech about his review of the National Security Agency's spying programs, the American Civil Liberties Union has launched a petition calling for the amnesty of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

"Edward Snowden is a great American who deserves full immunity for his patriotic acts. And we're proud to serve as his legal advisors," the ACLU wrote on the petition. "Now if tens of thousands of us stand together and tell President Obama to grant Snowden immunity, we have a real chance of bringing him home."

As of this writing, the petition has more than 40,000 signatures. Its goal is to reach 45,000 signatures.

Snowden is currently living in exile in Russia after reportedly stealing 1.7 million classified documents from US government computers last June. He leaked the documents to the media -- leading to the public discovering that the government has been spying on its citizens via metadata from Internet companies and through cellular records.

Snowden's yearlong temporary asylum granted by Russia is expected come to an end this year. If he isn't given immunity by the US, it's unclear where he will end up. Brazil is a possible contender -- its government has been debating whether to grant him asylum.

While the topic of a pardon for Snowden is still highly contentious, some officials have shown signs of softening the government's stance toward the former NSA contractor. Rick Ledgett, who runs a NSA task force assessing the damage on the Snowden leaks, has said he might agree to an immunity deal if Snowden returned the stolen documents.

In December, a conservative federal judge ruled that the NSA's phone-records program violates the Fourth Amendment -- calling it "almost Orwellian" and saying it would leave founding father James Madison "aghast." The ruling prompted NSA critics and supporters of Snowden to say that Snowden had been vindicated. But, Obama and dozens of other lawmakers haven't seemed convinced.

Over the past few weeks, Obama has headed a presidential review group -- made up of lawmakers, intelligence officials, and technology company executives -- to discuss reform proposals of the NSA's surveillance programs. According to the Associated Press, the president is expected to announce the results of this review at the Justice Department on Friday.