NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden's decision to leak classified information on the agency's massive domestic surveillance programs was an act of civil disobedience, civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) told the Guardian when asked in a recent interview.
"In keeping with the philosophy and the discipline of non-violence, in keeping with the teaching of [Henry] David Thoreau and people like Gandhi and others, if you believe something that is not right, something is unjust, and you are willing to defy customs, traditions, bad laws, then you have a conscience," Lewis said. "You have a right to defy those laws and be willing to pay the price."
Lewis, a veteran of the civil rights movement who has spoken powerfully about his activism and the oppression he faced as an original member of the Freedom Riders, went on to sympathize with Snowden, saying that sometimes "you have to act by the dictates of your conscience."
It was a rare display of support for Snowden, who was recently granted asylum by Russia. That move led President Barack Obama to cancel an upcoming summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin. While many House representatives, including Lewis, voted in favor of an unsuccessful bill to restrict NSA data collection last month, most lawmakers have been clear that they consider Snowden a criminal who deserves prosecution for breaking the law.
Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), sponsor of the failed legislation to rein in NSA spying, also broke the mold in a recent interview, saying that he considered Snowden a "whistleblower" who "told us what we need to know."