The Whitehouse petition to pre-emptively pardon NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden for “crimes he may have committed while blowing the whistle” has reached its goal of 100,000 signatures. This means that the U.S. Administration, by its own rules, need to take it seriously enough to craft a response to it. While that response is unlikely to be anything else than “we politely disagree and intend to impolitely hunt this man down”, it is still an important signal of dissent.
The petition reached 100,000 signatures at 12:30 UTC, today June 22. These petitions, as defined and set up by the U.S. administration in the White House, are a way for citizens to call attention to issues they want to be taken seriously. This particular petition is unusually clear in its language, where most are rather poorly worded and ambiguous:
Edward Snowden is a national hero and should be immediately issued a a full, free, and absolute pardon for any crimes he has committed or may have committed related to blowing the whistle on secret NSA surveillance programs.
Now, regardless of success in terms of signature count, it is important to remember that this is a petition – not a legislation. This is not a binding parliamentary vote that reached its goal of majority. It is a voice of dissent against the administration’s persecuting an important whistleblower, and it is a voice of strong dissent against the administration’s ubiquitous wiretapping. They are going to ignore it completely – on its own. But the persistent drop hollows the stone. This was but one fall of the drop. Snowden’s pardon petition needs to be one of many, many initiatives that voice dissent in the coming weeks and months.
It is also reasonable to ask if one should be speaking in terms of “pardon” in the first place, as though the man was a criminal rather than a responsible citizen with higher morals than most could hope to achieve in a lifetime. In this affair, the surveillance hawks are the criminals who should be seeking pardon, and no one else. We think the key message to get across is the first part of the petition: “Edward Snowden is a hero”.
On its own, this petition stands as much chance of changing an ivory-tower establishment attitude as the massive protests after the raid and verdict against The Pirate Bay did. At that time, the establishment reacted with – at most – a condescending “good for them nerds to get some sunlight”. That holier-than-thou tone of voice changed radically when the Pirate Party kicked officials out of office to take their seats in the following elections. One step at a time, one voicing of dissent at a time. Every step is important. For example, don’t miss the similar Avaaz petition that is currently in excess of one million signatures.
To be honest, it is also fair to say that the administration has little reason to take their petition seriously on its own after a petition to build a Death Star reached the same kind of goal. While obviously tongue-in-cheek, and given exactly that sort of response from the administration, that petition set the bar for the seriousness of other White House petitions.
This was one successful step of dissent against the surveillance state, and for the freedom of the press that counteracts it. Sunlight isn’t just good for nerds, it is necessary for society overall.