TIME POLL: Support for Snowden—and His Prosecution

54% of respondents said the leaker, Edward Snowden, did a “good thing” in releasing information about the government programs.

  • Share
  • Read Later
TIME Magazine Cover, June 24, 2013
Photo-Illustration by Joe Magee for TIME. Swartz: Fred Benenson; Snowden: Guardian / Glenn Greenwald / Laura Poitras / EPA; Manning: Patrick Semansky / AP

More than half of Americans approve of a former intelligence contractor’s decision to leak classified details of sprawling government surveillance programs, according to the results of a new TIME poll.

Fifty-four percent of respondents said the leaker, Edward Snowden, 29, did a “good thing” in releasing information about the government programs, which collect phone, email, and Internet search records in an effort, officials say, to prevent terrorist attacks. Just 30 percent disagreed.

But an almost identical number of Americans —  53 percent —  still said he should be prosecuted for the leak, compared to 28% who said he should not. Americans aged 18 to 34 break from older generations in showing far more support for Snowden’s actions. Just 41 percent of that cohort say he should face charges, while 43 percent say he should not. Just 19 percent of that age group say the leak was a “bad thing.”

(VIDEO: Edward Snowden: A Modern-Day Daniel Ellsberg, Except for One Key Difference)

Overall, Americans are sharply divided over the government’s use of surveillance programs to prevent terrorist attacks, according to the results of the poll. Forty-eight percent of Americans approve of the surveillance programs, while 44 percent disapprove, a statistical tie given the poll’s four-point margin of error.

The program’s existence, revealed last week by the Guardian and the Washington Post, provoked a massive uproar in Washington and among privacy and digital advocates. President Barack Obama, who opposed many of the same programs during the Bush administration before extending them as president, said last week that they are overseen by all three branches of the federal government.

“If people can’t trust not only the executive branch, but also don’t trust Congress and don’t trust federal judges to make sure that we’re abiding by the Constitution, due process and rule of law, then we’re going to have some problems here,” Obama said Friday.

A majority of the poll’s respondents say that the surveillance programs have helped protect national security, with 63 percent saying they’ve had “some” or a “great deal” of impact in protecting the country. Just 31 percent says they’ve done “not much” or “nothing at all.”

A narrow plurality of those polled, 48 percent to 43 percent, believe that the federal government is striking the right balance between protecting Americans’ privacy and protecting their physical well-being or that the government should be doing more to prevent terrorism.

(MORE: Hong Kong Will Decide My Fate, Edward Snowden Tells South China Morning Post)

Nearly 60 percent believe the revelations will not force the government to curtail the surveillance program. But 76 percent of Americans believe there will soon be additional disclosures that the spying programs are bigger and more widespread than currently known.

Americans are largely split on partisan grounds as to whether Obama is more careful about respecting privacy than President George W. Bush. Twenty-eight percent said Bush was more careful, one-quarter sided with Obama, and 42 percent say there has been little difference between the two.

The poll coincides with the release of TIME’s latest cover “The Informers,” examining the new generation of leakers. TIME’s Michael Scherer writes:

The U.S. national security infrastructure was built to defend against foreign enemies and the spies they recruit. But now there is a new threat, exemplified by the pasty faces and rimless glasses of the young people many in Congress now call traitors while their online supporters hail them as whistleblowers. They are twenty-something homegrown computer geeks like Snowden, with utopian ideas of how the world should work. Just as anti-war protesters of the Vietnam Era argued that peace, not war, was the natural state of man, this new breed of technophiles believes that transparency and personal privacy are the foundations of a free society. Secrecy and surveillance, therefore, are steps towards tyranny. And in the face of tyranny, rebellion is noble.

The poll, conducted for TIME on June 10 and 11 by the survey research firm Abt SRBI, surveyed 805 people over landlines and cell phones.

21 comments
Rototime
Rototime

Good.  Stop the surveillance.  Let a few thousand people get killed in terrorist attacks in the US.  Then see if anyone wants to support surveillance.  You can have and eat your cake.  This is a new environment in the US, wanted or not.

OldFashionedLiberal
OldFashionedLiberal

Snowden deserves a medal!

People who think our leaders are always right simply because they are Americans are deluded fools.

We must stand up for liberty before the federal government (Dems or Reps) destroys it forever.

LarryLevine
LarryLevine

 It's treason.  He should go to prison or get the death penalty.  I don't know why we are polling on this.  We have laws.

EdwardDouglas
EdwardDouglas

I used to think the problem with this country was in fact the government (I still do).  What I overlooked was just how stupid the American people are.  Democrats who do not understand that big government is not the answer, Republicans who wish to push this country into a Christian theocracy and believe in liberty and freedom...until it extends to people they disagree with.  Snowden has very little to gain and everything to lose by doing what he did.  Let me give one example of many of what I am talking about:

The USA should have and should be keeping its fricking nose out affairs that it has no business in.  How many decades were we in the middle east making enemies?  How much "collateral damage" which are people's kids, parents, aunts or friends, were killed in the Iraq and Afrgan wars?  Do you think invasion of other nations and the killing of their people makes for revenge and anger against the USA, thereby increasing the risks for future terror attacks?  No one likes a bully.  Maybe if we would stop acting like one around the world, we would not have to have all this BS (which is what it is).  So lets review.  The government in large part fans the fuel of terrorism, then says we have to invade the privacy of its citizens to keep them safe.  WAKE UP!

jmac
jmac

Something to keep in mind as this story unfolds  - Glenn Greenwald is not a reporter.  He has an agenda.

Bob Cesca (The Daily Banter)
1. Why hasn’t Greenwald clarified his “direct access to servers” language from last week’s PRISM report?
Multiple other news outlets have provided information debunking the notion that the NSA had unfettered back door access to servers belonging to the various tech giants named in the PRISM slides. The New York Times es described a process whereby the various tech companies, after receiving a FISA court approved request from the NSA and vetting it through their legal departments, gather the information and post it in a virtual “mailbox” for the NSA to retrieve: “It is not sent automatically or in bulk, and the government does not have full access to company servers. Instead, they said, it is a more secure and efficient way to hand over the data.”3. Why did Greenwald exaggerate the scope of his Verizon story?  Yesterday on Twitter, Greenwald wrote that nobody thought the USA PATRIOT Act enabled “bulk collection of all Americans’ records.” Another Twitter user replied, “You mean “some of” not “all”. Unless you have something else to share?” Greenwald’s response? “The program we exposed is the collection of all American’s phone records.” Unless I missed a revelation in Greenwald’s reporting, and I don’t think I have, this is an untrue statement. The program he described last week, prior to his PRISM reporting, had to do with the NSA’s collection ofVerizon phone records for a span of three months. Unless “all Americans” take Verizon as their phone provivder, Greenwald was wrong.

----------------Why was Greenwald meeting with Snowden before his 4 week job at Booz - did he take the job just to copy and flee?  Did Greenwald encourage that?  He might have some explaining to do.  

wdfc
wdfc

REMEMBER: only 805 people surveyed..SO YOU CANNOT READ into this that Americans approve of this guy's action. REMEMBER ONLY 805 OF A SELECTED DEMOGRAPHIC AREA!...........I sure as hell do not approve.

duduong
duduong

He is a traitor to the government but not to the people. The real issue here is that the sentence above applies to America. What happened to democracy?

BobSheepleherder
BobSheepleherder

"Most" Americans don't even understand what he did. Other than what the self-serving media is writing, very little real information is available. How can anyone form an educated opinion when they don't even know how the consequences of this guys actions is going to effect them? The media makes a lot of noise about "freedom" and "truth" but is making little effort to present fact.

jmac
jmac

Fifty-four percent of Americans might change their mind on approving this leak when they find out more about the "intelligence contractor" and whether his leak put lives at risk.  He was only in the job with Booz for about four weeks.  He was talking to a reporter before he took the job.  Does that matter?  Or should we just look at the leak and what it shows about our government.   Well, so far, it hasn't shown what he said it would - that a criminal act was done by our government.   If he really had the capability to wire federal judges and the president - he needs to tell it to someone in our government and quit hiding out in a Chinese country that he trusts for their open-mindedness.  He's a kook.  Yes, it matters that he's a kook.  He might have hurt more than helped.     

MarshallLaw
MarshallLaw

Well, considering that 90% of the sheeple probably would have approved of the government's secret spying after the 9/11 false flag attack, it seems we are moving slowly in the right direction.  

SamBrody
SamBrody

The problem is not that the government has secrete programs, the problem is that they are so out of touch with the current state of technology they think they can stay secrete

Spike3
Spike3

The government classified Fort Hood as "workplace violence" to avoid offending muslims, and you trust them to protect you.  Isn't that cute?

EdwardDouglas
EdwardDouglas

YES!  We have laws that the government is also suppose to follow...what is so hard to understand about this?

JojjeJanzen
JojjeJanzen

@EdwardDouglas Exactly, very well said!!

USA is a country full of paranoid people thanks to your Government. Both Democrats and Republicans are feeding the terrorists and also creating more of them by treating regular people in the whole world like crap. When Google, Facebook, Yahoo and other ho companies spy (or raping peoples personal integrity over and over again if you want) on innocent people and also share the information they collect with the US Government you'll definitely piss millions of people around the world off.

Also, why is it no one in the US is questioning the truth in the bullcrap the head of the NSA is telling everyone. I want proof and I want it now about all those made up terrorist attacks he says they have prevented.

LarryLevine
LarryLevine

When the government breaks the laws, then it should be held responsible.  I was commenting on the leaker, not what he was leaking.  Two separate issues.  We don't want people to feel like they can just give away our secrets, no matter how righteous they believe their reasons might be, without consequence.  


EdwardDouglas
EdwardDouglas

Yes, you are 100 percent correct. Going by that logic if a person in the government should find out that the said government is looking to do experiments on its people with bio warfare, that said top secret employee should remain silent. Great logic!