The groundswell of support for Edward Snowden has now spread to the White House's own petitioning website.
Just days after the National Security Agency contractor leaked classified documents on the agency's phone and Internet surveillance programs to the Guardian and the Washington Post, a petition to pardon Snowden was posted to the White House's We the People site. By Monday, as questions swirled about whether Snowden, who fled to Hong Kong, will be extradited and prosecuted, the petition had garnered more than 17,000 signatures.
And now, a second, more creative petition has popped up, this time calling for Obama to engage in a live, public debate with Snowden.
"President Obama, you have said that the NSA's blanket tracking of Americans' phone calls and collaboration with tech giants 'struck the right balance' and that you 'welcome this debate,'" the petition reads. "You are the best qualified person to make the case in favor of broad surveillance. To make the opposing case, we can think of no one better than whistle-blower Edward Snowden."
On Friday, Obama defended the surveillance programs in a speech in San Jose, Calif., as both legal and limited. "I welcome this debate and I think it's healthy for our democracy," he said.
The Obama-Snowden petition was started by Holmes Wilson, an Internet activist who founded Fight for the Future, a digital rights nonprofit, and organized much of the viral 2011 campaign to rally against the Stop Online Piracy Act and Protect-IP Act, two bills that would have policed Internet activities.
The White House generally only responds to petitions once they reach a 100,000 signature threshold; Wilson's petition, which was created less than an hour ago, has yet to reach 100. Back in December, Obama responded directly to a We the People petition urging for more gun control after the Newtown, Conn. shooting. "We hear you," Obama said in a videotaped response.
But even if Wilson's petition picks up steam, which is likely given the Internet activist's viral campaign background, it's doubtful he'll get the response he's looking for from the Obama administration. The White House generally does not comment on a petition if it relates to an ongoing investigation, according to the Washington Post, and Snowden currently faces a criminal investigation by the Department of Justice, as well as by congressional committees.
Wilson acknowledges it "would be unusual" to see a sitting president debate a private citizen. "But if Obama doesn't think one hour to debate the implications of such massive state surveillance is a worthy use of his time," he says, "his priorities are just wrong."