Whether one views him as a heroic whistleblower helping to preserve civil liberties or a traitor endangering national security, Edward Snowden broke the law. Failing to prosecute him would send the message that people with top-secret clearance can choose for themselves whether to respect the law or not. That can’t happen. If Snowden made a sacrifice to protect civil liberties, then his sacrifice should extend to answering for his actions in court.
The law should give appropriate latitude to whistleblowers who uncover government wrongdoing — even if they are, like Snowden, government contractors rather than official employees. As a contractor working for the National Security Agency, Snowden isn’t protected by the Whistle-blower Protection Enhancement Act, which excludes intelligence agencies, or a 2012 Obama administration directive, which covers intelligence workers but excludes contractors. Intelligence contractors should be covered. But whistle-blowing protections should only shield those who expose illegal wrongdoing — not people who merely want to make political statements against policies that, however objectionable, are properly authorized.