Over at Lawfare, Ben Wittes argues that Edward Snowden violated the Privacy Act when he gave the Washington Post the private communications of individuals spied on by the NSA. The law in question states:
Any officer or employee of an agency, who by virtue of his employment or official position, has possession of, or access to, agency records which contain individually identifiable information the disclosure of which is prohibited by this section or by rules or regulations established thereunder, and who knowing that disclosure of the specific material is so prohibited, willfully discloses the material in any manner to any person or agency not entitled to receive it, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and fined not more than $5,000.
Snowden's leak does seem to violate this law. Under the circumstances, a misdemeanor conviction and a $5,000 fine seems like a reasonable penalty—and since he's a student of civil disobedience who believes in the importance of privacy, I suspect Snowden would plead guilty to the misdemeanor to underscore the law's importance, assusiming he were also given the Espionage Act clemency he deserves for exposing surveillance that massively violates human rights, the Fourth Amendment, and the separation of powers. That revelation fulfilled his obligation to protect the Constitution from enemies both foreign and domestic.
What do you say, Mr. Snowden? Would you take that deal, despite the recent custom of granting retroactive immunity to those who violate the privacy of Americans?
Of course, I would understand if, Snowden offered to pay the $5,000 fine only if charges were also brought and, if convictions were secured, punishments meted out to James Clapper for perjury, various CIA officials for torture, and Leon Panetta for revealing classified information about the military unit that killed Osama bin Laden. After all, I'm sure that Snowden, like Wittes, wouldn't want to send the message that breaking the law in service of those in power goes unpunished in America, while "the rule of law" is only invoked to punish those who criticize the powerful.