By Paige Lavender
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange weighed in on President Barack Obama’s proposed surveillance reforms Saturday, calling the new measures “a victory of sorts for Edward Snowden.”
“As Snowden has stated, his biggest concern was if he blew the whistle and change did not occur,” Assange said in a statement. “Well reforms are taking shape, and for that, the President and people of the United States and around the world owe Edward Snowden a debt of gratitude.”
On Friday, Obama proposed the first of several steps “to help restore public confidence” following revelations in June that the federal government was secretly mining millions of Americans’ phone and electronic communications. HuffPost’s Sabrina Siddiqui reported earlier:
The president’s proposed measures focused on reforming Section 215 of the Patriot Act and Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act, under which the NSA’s surveillance programs are considered lawful. The reforms would focus on creating more oversight and greater transparency, particularly through modifications to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which currently authorizes the surveillance through highly classified opinions.
Obama specifically discussed creating a special advocate who could challenge the court on the basis of privacy and constitutional concerns. He also expressed support for making more information public, and upon his directive, the Department of Justice released the legal rationale for the government’s collection activities under Section 215 of the Patriot Act.
Obama also shared his thoughts on Snowden during the remarks, making it clear his embrace of reform did not mean he was justifying the whistleblower’s actions.
“No, I don’t think Mr. Snowden was a patriot,” Obama said. “The fact is, Mr. Snowden has been charged with three felonies.”
Assange’s full statement below:
Today the President of the United States validated Edward Snowden’s role as a whistleblower by announcing plans to reform America’s global surveillance program. But rather than thank Edward Snowden, the President laughably attempted to criticize him while claiming that there was a plan all along, “before Edward Snowden.” The simple fact is that without Snowden’s disclosures, no one would know about the programs and no reforms could take place. As Thomas Jefferson so eloquently once stated, “All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.” Luckily for the citizens of the world, Edward Snowden is one of those “people of good conscience” who did not “remain silent”, just as Pfc Bradley Manning and Daniel Ellsberg refused to remain silent.
Ironically, the Department of Justice is betraying two key principles that President Obama championed when he ran for office transparency and protection for whistleblowers. During his 2008 campaign, the President supported Whistleblowers, claiming their “acts of courage and patriotism, which can sometimes save lives and often save taxpayer dollars, should be encouraged rather than stifled.” Yet his administration has prosecuted twice as many whistleblowers than all other administrations combined
Moreover, the US government’s hypocrisy over Snowden’s right to seek asylum has been stunning. America offers asylum to dissidents, whistleblowers and political refugees without regard to other governments opposition all the time. For example, the US has accepted 3,103 of their own asylees, 1,222 from Russia and 1,762 from Venezuela – http://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/publications/immigration-statistics/yearbook/2011/ois_yb_2011.pdf.
Today was a victory of sorts for Edward Snowden and his many supporters. As Snowden has stated, his biggest concern was if he blew the whistle and change did not occur. Well reforms are taking shape, and for that, the President and people of the United States and around the world owe Edward Snowden a debt of gratitude.