Russia's decision Thursday to grant political asylum to Edward J. Snowden for a year frustrates — at least for the foreseeable future — the Obama administration's attempt to return the former
Snowden's disclosures have inspired an overdue debate that was previously impossible because of the cloak of government secrecy that shrouded the surveillance programs. Without his revelation to the Guardian that the U.S. government was scooping up reams of information about the phone calls of virtually every American, there wouldn't have been a close vote in the
If the effects of Snowden's leaks are so salutary, his defenders ask, why should he be prosecuted?
One answer is that, in a society of laws, those who engage in civil disobedience should be prepared to accept some legal consequences for their actions. That principle assures that individuals will think seriously, as they should, about whether lawbreaking is justified by a higher cause. This doesn't mean that judges and juries can't take into account the motives of those who violate what they see as unjust laws. That Snowden was a whistle-blower alerting Americans to their government's questionable overreach certainly seems like grounds to seek leniency.
Another consideration in the Snowden case is that not all of his revelations involved the collection of personal information about Americans. Snowden also gave the Guardian a document showing that the NSA had intercepted the communications of then-Russian President