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The verdict is in. Edward Snowden is a hero. And no, not in that hyper-nationalist, everyone-in-uniform, pandering sort of way.

U.S. Sen Dick Durbin joined two colleagues Tuesday and sponsored legislation to finally end the National Security Agency's eavesdrop-on-everyone campaign, a response to this past week's damning appellate court ruling. Many observers say the USA Freedom Act, which would instead require cell phone carriers to maintain metadata for a while, doesn't go far enough to protect Americans from the dragnet. But Durbin's bill is at least a stride toward ending more than a decade of paranoia-fueled erosion of basic liberty.

It's only happening thanks to a man who gave up a six-figure job, downloaded millions of documents and skipped the country. He took the stolen property to The Guardian, which published story after story about just how far the U.S. government was taking surveillance of its own citizens. The pro-snooping hawks labeled him a traitor destined for the firing squad. They were wrong. 

The court ruling and Washington's reaction have vindicated Snowden. So why is he still trapped in some faux exile in Russia? 

It's curious that Senate sponsors Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Durbin aren't screaming from the rooftops for Snowden's victorious return, complete with a parade usually reserved for champion athletes.

Local Republican Reps. John Shimkus and Mike Bost each backed the House version of the Freedom Act Wednesday as it breezed through the lower chamber on a 338-88 vote.

Any lawmaker who supports ending the NSA's illegal, panoptic program is, by default, endorsing Edward Snowden. They should own it and acknowledge his contribution to the nation. Pressure the White House for the homecoming he deserves.

Snowden, a lowly analyst for a private contractor, saw his government abusing its power and did something about it. The shear guts required to grab the reams of classified documents and bolt is mind-blowing. It's something out of a James Bond film.

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Yet he pulled it off. And, 14 years after the 9/11 attacks, he's forcing the U.S. to grapple with what it has become. The 9/11 terrorists didn't expect to conquer the U.S. or topple the government. They only hoped to force us to surrender core values out of fear. And, on that level, they won. Americans gladly surrendered freedom for a false sense of security. For a short time, we turned on liberty because any open state will, by definition, be a vulnerable one. 

But it doesn't have to be a long-term victory for the religious radicals. Snowden's leaks are returning the U.S. to normalcy, where the First and Fourth Amendments again mean something. Just a decade ago, any lawmaker who dared question the Orwellian U.S. spy network was branded either soft on terror or naive. Not any more.

Snowden is no spy. He's no traitor. No longer should he live in hiding from the very society he worked to save. 

Securing Snowden's safe return should be Durbin's next project, if the Freedom Act survives Congress. And please, don't forget the statue in the National Mall.

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Jon Alexander is opinion page editor at The Southern. He can be reached at jonathan.alexander@the southern.com.

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