The question in the headline isn’t quite the right question. Edwards Snowden, the man who leaked a treasure trove of sensitive documents to journalists blowing the lid off the NSA’s surveillance of pretty much everybody and everything, could come home today if he wanted to, but he’d likely face dire legal challenges.
So the question isn’t whether or not Snowden should be allowed to come home. The question is, what should US authorities do to Snowden?
In an editorial the New York Times is calling for reduced punishment, so that Snowden can come home and be an advocate for privacy and restraint in spying:
Considering the enormous value of the information he has revealed, and the abuses he has exposed, Mr. Snowden deserves better than a life of permanent exile, fear and flight. He may have committed a crime to do so, but he has done his country a great service. It is time for the United States to offer Mr. Snowden a plea bargain or some form of clemency that would allow him to return home, face at least substantially reduced punishment in light of his role as a whistle-blower, and have the hope of a life advocating for greater privacy and far stronger oversight of the runaway intelligence community.
I find myself in agreement.
Intent matters. Edward Snowden’s intent wasn’t to hurt America but to protect it from a nascent surveillance state that few Americans even realized was being created around them. Snowden’s intent was to shock the citizenry, and prod our elected leaders into actually performing the oversight role they’d all but abdicated.
Time will tell how successful Snowden will be in these endeavors, but whatever the outcome he’s a hero. History will judge him as such, I believe, and it would be a tragedy for Snowden to languish in foreign exile a symbol of America’s failure to live up to its own ideals.