Edward Snowden is the former National Security Agency contractor who risked his job, his prestige, and his freedom to expose the NSA’s secret mass-surveillance programs that trampled the privacy rights of Americans. For that, he has earned the gratitude of millions of Americans and the loathing of the security state. The Justice Department indicted him under the Espionage Act for revealing classified information. The State Department stripped him of his passport while he was in a Russian airport transit lounge, effectively exiling him to Russia. Now human-rights organizations at home and abroad are joining to call on President Obama to pardon Snowden.

Even those who oppose a pardon acknowledge that, as Obama’s former attorney general Eric Holder said, if Snowden’s leak of classified information was “inappropriate and illegal,” the whistle-blower had performed a “public service.”

The scope of that service too often gets ignored. Snowden’s disclosures revealed that the NSA was spying on the digital lives of hundreds of millions of innocent people, trampling their privacy with no prior review, reasonable suspicion, or probable cause. The leaks sparked the greatest reform of the intelligence agencies since Watergate. As Cindy Cohn, executive director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, observes, Snowden’s revelations led to the “first…legislation to rein in the NSA in over 30 years, reform of the secret [intelligence] court, and significant, long-overdue public releases of critical information by the government about its spying on innocent Americans as well as millions of others around the world.”

Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.