Human rights groups are urging U.S. President Barack Obama to pardon former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden for leaking state secrets before leaving office in January.
The American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch said on September 14 that they have started an online petition drive to pardon Snowden, who is living in exile in Russia after leaking documents revealing the National Security Agency's widespread surveillance programs in 2013.
"Cases like Edward Snowden's are precisely why the presidential pardon power exists," ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero said. "There is widespread consensus that Edward Snowden's actions catalyzed an unprecedented debate about the proper limits of government surveillance, and his actions resulted in widespread reforms both in law and in technology that protect Americans and individuals across the globe."
Snowden said that he has not asked for a pardon, but he does not believe he could receive a fair trial in the United States because the 1917 Espionage Act does not allow him to explain to a jury his reasons for leaking.
"This World War I-era law does not distinguish between those who freely give critical information to journalists in the public interest or spies who sell it to a foreign power for their own" profit, he said.