Poll: NSA leak served public interest, but prosecute Snowden anyway

A rather confusing poll from PEW and USA Today about Edward Snowden and his various NSA leaks.  49% of the public says that Snowden’s leak about government phone and Internet surveillance “serves public interest,” versus 44% who think it “harms public interest.”

Yet, a full 54% says he should be prosecuted, and oddly, when you break down the numbers, 59% of both Democrats and Republicans think he should be prosecuted, while only 48% of Independents agree.

As for why the public overall thinks the leaks are beneficial but that Snowden (or whomever was behind the leaks, as the poll phrased it) should be prosecuted, I suspect you’re seeing a combination of Americans’ sense of fairness, and justice, colliding.  We don’t like people breaking laws, even if we do sometimes understand or even appreciate their motives. I suspect people are worried in part by the precedent that’s set if we let one leaker off the hook, perhaps next time a less noble one will leak again.  Still, it’s awfully odd.

Things get even more confusing when you look back a week ago at an earlier PEW poll that showed 56% of the public saying that it was okay for the NSA to track phone calls.  But now we know they’d be ticked if they found out that THEIR phone line was tapped.

Young people under 30 say the leak served the public interest, to the tune of a whopping 60%.  Young people were also the only age demographic to oppose prosecution, with 44% in favor, 50% opposed.

NSA-signOne bright note from the study was the finding that 54% think the government has probably collected data about their phone calls and emails, while 63% say that if it was confirmed, they’d feel their privacy was violated.  Yet they’d want the man prosecuted who uncovered the fact.

This next bit of data smells of partisanship all around:

Nearly six-in-ten Democrats (58%) approve of the government’s data collection efforts, compared with 45% of Republicans and 42% of independents. Democrats are also more likely than Republicans or independents to say the program has helped prevent terrorist attacks.

In the same way that Republicans never wanted to criticize Bush’s excesses, while Democrats didn’t trust Bush one lick, I suspect the same sentiments in reverse may be at play today.

Things get even more interesting when you factor in the Tea Party.  Tea Party Republicans, and liberal Democrats, are both more likely to believe the leaks served the public interest than either Republicans or Democrats at large.  And PEW found the same divide when it came to prosecuting Snowden – Tea Party and liberal Dems both are less supportive.


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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60 Responses to “Poll: NSA leak served public interest, but prosecute Snowden anyway”

  1. Sweetie says:

    “Julie” is a man.

  2. karmanot says:

    “Prosecute this pussy” Oh, Julie, Julie, while I am sure you are an expert on pussies I don’t think you should comment and drink at the same time. Go out on the patio, wave your flag and work it off.

  3. ultraviolet_uk says:

    No, it is spelling out facts. I realise that you have to rationalise them away, because they are facts that don’t fit with your preconceived notions based on Greenwald’s lies, but that does not change the position at all.

  4. Sweetie says:

    “So how is your first post relevant?”

    I suppose reading my reply might help you out.

  5. Snaggletooth says:

    Let me rephrase things:

    If the means are available to real terrorists to end run around the spying, why are we wasting money and manpower on it? It seems it’s only purpose is to fuck with the average citizen.

    So how is your first post relevant?

  6. Sweetie says:

    “Prosecute this pussy who is conveniently hiding in Hong Kong. His
    parents must be so proud that he got his 15 minutes of fame by putting
    our country at risk. POS.”

    Yeah, “Julie”… very convincing.

  7. Sweetie says:

    More authoritarian dogma. Whether or not something is legal is often an arbitrary matter. Laws change and are often hardly perfect or close to it. Laws exist in context, and law-breaking does in turn. Whistleblowing generally involves serving a more positive social purpose than blindly following established circumstances, including the legal code. And, the more cynical among us (such as myself) would argue that the law is generally used to maintain elite privilege — as its primary goal.

    There is the stated law and the implemented law. Frequently, there is a large disconnect between those. Law for the little people (authoritarian and harsh) and law for the elite (the Ford pardon and such).

    It’s the height of authoritarian religiosity to argue that a justified leak justifies prosecuting the leaker. It’s utterly irrational.

  8. Sweetie says:

    The “I have nothing to hide” point is fallacious because it changes the subject. The subject is excessive surveillance, not what specific people have to hide.

    However, in terms of the “I have nothing to hide” bit… your argument, taken to its fullest, is that there should be absolutely no privacy. We should also trust that the government will be fully benevolent. Panopticon. Pure authoritarianism.

    “The Panopticon creates a consciousness of permanent visibility as a form of power, where no bars, chains, and heavy locks are necessary for domination any more.”

    This might not be so bad if EVERYONE were subjected to this. However, you want “special” people (the powerful, the elite) to be able to be exempt from this. Who will watch the watchers?

  9. Nick says:


    Also, even if the information leak was justifiable, a law was violated that involved revealing classified information. Letting him slide by the law because we want to call him a “hero” is not justice.

  10. Sweetie says:

    The post is clearly a response to this:

    “I’d just like to remind people that there are alternatives to being
    spied on and monitored. It is possible to use free and publicly
    available software and tools that can keep you from being compromised.”

    That it comes directly from Snowden makes it even more relevant as a response.

    As for the rudeness, I guess others would be pleased that someone took the time to respond with a detailed substantive post.

  11. Julie says:

    this Snowden punk is an ahole that put our nation’s security at major risk. how do you think the CIA and FBI protect this country? by being honest? by saying please? give me a break. you’re all idiots if you think that. of course they have to do things that you might not like but that’s how terrorists are caught and why some of us are still living. so be it. this country is a joke if they want everything exposed because if everything is exposed then the bad guys are also going to know what’s up. if you have nothing to hide (ie you are not downloading or making child porn, you are not working for Al Qaeda or other terrorist organizations, you are not kidnapping and enslaving women, you are not committing murders or rapes or selling deadly drugs, you are not robbing banks etc) then what the hell are you worried about? I could care less if they see my phone records because I actually follow the laws. So why is this a problem for so many people? Prosecute this pussy who is conveniently hiding in Hong Kong. His parents must be so proud that he got his 15 minutes of fame by putting our country at risk. POS.

  12. Snaggletooth says:

    I don’t mean to be rude, but thanks for dodging the question and throwing up straw men,

  13. Sweetie says:

    “US Persons do enjoy limited policy protections (and again, it’s
    important to understand that policy protection is no protection – policy
    is a one-way ratchet that only loosens) and one very weak technical
    protection – a near-the-front-end filter at our ingestion points. The
    filter is constantly out of date, is set at what is euphemistically
    referred to as the “widest allowable aperture,” and can be stripped out
    at any time. Even with the filter, US comms get ingested, and even more
    so as soon as they leave the border.

    Encryption works. Properly implemented strong crypto systems are one of
    the few things that you can rely on. Unfortunately, endpoint security is
    so terrifically weak that NSA can frequently find ways around it.

    Q: “So far are things going the way you thought they would regarding a public debate?”

    Snowden: “Initially I was very encouraged. Unfortunately, the mainstream media now
    seems far more interested in what I said when I was 17 or what my
    girlfriend looks like rather than, say, the largest program of
    suspicionless surveillance in human history.”


    Points of my own:

    1. The facility in Utah has breaking strong encryption as one of its main goals.

    2. Companies like Apple who use strong encryption (Messages in iOS) have faced demands by the government for a backdoor. And, that information came out before Snowden’s leak. His leak strongly suggests that backdoors were given a long time ago, with the public demands merely being Kabuki.

    3. Using TOR (which is slowww) and other privacy-enhancing products/tools will raise the suspicion of the NSA and others — likely guaranteeing that you will be monitored even more aggressively.

  14. Snaggletooth says:

    I’d just like to remind people that there are alternatives to being spied on and monitored. It is possible to use free and publicly available software and tools that can keep you from being compromised.

    Since this is a fact, I have to wonder why we are doing it. Are we really monitoring anybody but amateurs? Think about all those supposed terrorist plots where we discover that really it was just some ignorant fool being led by the feds. Do you think this is really keeping us safe from threats?

    If not, what is the surveillance really about?

  15. karmanot says:

    You got my joke! thanks

  16. nicho says:

    I didn’t want to invoke the “nuclear option.”

  17. Sweetie says:

    money = politics

  18. Sweetie says:

    Don’t forget about Jay Bybee

  19. Sweetie says:

    Don’t forget football. The entire government would be _____ed.

  20. Sweetie says:

    “I suspect you’re seeing a combination of Americans’ sense of fairness, and justice, colliding.”

    What you’re seeing is the craven nature of human beings. Translation:

    We like the entertainment factor of the leak, and we’re also entertained by watching the leaker get crushed.

  21. sane37 says:

    they already are

  22. BeccaM says:

    That’s an editorial. An opinion piece. And a highly biased one at that.

  23. BeccaM says:

    I think I prefer to put my trust in multiple independent mainstream investigative journalists than in one Brit with a personal grudge and pro-authoritarian agenda, who simply asserts that all these reports are lies, with nothing to back up those assertions.

    Greenwald may have gotten the scoop, but he is by far not the only one looking at the leaked evidence.

  24. ultraviolet_uk says:


    “First, the much-ballyhooed PRISM program is not a program and not a
    secret, and anyone who says it is should not be trusted because they
    don’t know what they’re talking about. PRISM is the name for the
    government computer system that is used to handle the
    foreign-intelligence data collected under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.”

  25. ultraviolet_uk says:

    Which bit of the Prism part? Which particular Greenwald lie have you fallen for about the software for managing the database of metadata?

    There is not one single piece of evidence to support any claim that the security services are listening in to any phone calls without a warrant. Not one. The fact that so many people have been fooled into thinking such evidence exists is precisely my point.

  26. karmanot says:


  27. BeccaM says:

    De nada, sweetie.

  28. karmanot says:

    These days of intricate corruption and the fail of the American experiment in democracy. —-amazing it took only a few presidencies away from Nixon to unravel our 200 years of exceptional myth making.

  29. karmanot says:

    Except that a recent case in the North west somewhere—–Idaho? had it’s 100 year old laws against corporate political funding over turned by the SCOTUS decision.

  30. karmanot says:

    Yoo also managed to ruin the reputation of Berkeley’s Bolt Hall in one tenured right wing moment. Naturally, he’s all for rendering Snowden and torturing him.

  31. karmanot says:

    Thank you!

  32. karmanot says:


  33. karmanot says:

    “Your attempt to belittle these reporting as inflammatory and misleading is misleading in itself.” This is the Badgerite’s Mo: fart and run…..

  34. karmanot says:

    What interests me Badgerite is that you have been dropping Obot and right wing loads on this site for sometime, but never engage in thread conversations. Irregardless of your cogent abilities to frame a point your passive aggressive non arguments are troll territory.

  35. karmanot says:

    This boomer thinks he is a hero, should not be tried, and hopefully find sanctuary in a country that will guarantee his life and safety free from the brutality of the American Imperium.

  36. Naja pallida says:

    I agree, but that is hardly something new. It has been steadily growing worse over the last 30-40 years. There hasn’t been a President or an Attorney General interested in doing anything about it in a generation. So where does that leave us? Whistle-blowers fleeing to communist countries, because they feel safer there.

  37. karmanot says:

    I think that the larger picture is revealing a descent into censorship and control resembling the Stassi or old Soviet days. The next generation will be speaking in code.

  38. karmanot says:

    It simply is not possible to get a fair trial in America. Law is not synonymous with justice in this American decline. That corruption starts at the highest level—the Supreme Court, and is the general rule at the Superior Court level. Very few cases get jury trials these days, unless they are rigged show trials. The new legalism is: Gulity until proven innocent and resolved by plea bargain.

  39. BeccaM says:

    Still reading last month’s news, I see. We’ll wait for you to catch up.

    Let us know when you get to the PRISM part.

  40. Naja pallida says:

    I am fully in line with believing there should be an investigation and a trial. Every whistle-blower should assume that will happen, and I’ve never heard of one having illusions that they’re going to come out ahead when they go against the government in such a blatant way. But any investigation should also stem to why such a low-level contractor had access to such information in the first place. It should be asking about the bigger picture questions, not just did Snowden release classified material. Which, obviously, he did, and doesn’t deny it. Why is our government engaged in blatantly unconstitutional programs? Why are not just the operational details of those programs, but also the contents of the data collected, so easily accessed by the low-level employees of a private company? Why are there so many people, who are not direct employees of the US government, with security clearances? Why is our national security apparatus so ostentatiously corrupt? If Snowden committed a crime, then there are thousands of accomplices that contributed to it happening, and they need to be held to account too.

  41. mpeasee says:

    …you must work for some form security services.

  42. ultraviolet_uk says:

    Becca, your comment reveals one of the most damaging fallacies at the heart of this debate.

    Neither the Feds nor anyone else is listening in to anything without a warrant. All that is happening is the creation of a database of which number called which other numbers and when, with no personal identifying information. There are hoops that have to be gone through before analysts can consult that database.

    The biggest obstacle to a rational debate on this issue is this ill-informed freak-out about what we are actually talking about, which has been deliberately fuelled by people taking out of context and ambiguous comments from various sources and leaping to completely untenable conclusions which they then present as proven fact.

    I agree entirely with Badgerite above. It is time to bring the security services to heel by adding layers of restrictions that many people said should have been in the Patriot Act to start with – and were called terrorist-loving commies for their trouble. But this ill-informed freak-out has to stop.

  43. mpeasee says:

    …and the reason there was know proof is because it was a secret….oops, BeccaM beat me to it….right on BeccaM!

  44. mpeasee says:

    Money out of politics is the key, and a State ratified Constitutional Amendment will do the trick to get these money grubbing bums out of our government!

  45. mpeasee says:

    If he is to be prosecuted, than all of the legislation branches that approved this should be prosecuted too, then Snowden. It is not Snowden’s fault that the branches decided to untether themselves from the Constitution. This was the only recourse for the American public to know what is really going on in the NSA since 9/11. There have been other whistleblowers who have tried to come forward and reveal that this is unconstitutional and have given solutions for working in a proper framework, but they where reprimanded and where handed over to prosecution using the Espionage Act. Your attempt to belittle these reporting as inflammatory and misleading is misleading in itself. So, do I think he should be prosecuted, no. I think he should be given immunity to come back to the US and testify before a congressional panel about what is actually happening with in, and around the NSA, and I believe that to be about a money flow from the government (citizen tax payers) to corporation and not about performing the mission of actually protecting this country. I actually believe they are making us less safe.

  46. BeccaM says:

    Aye, the original lawsuits were thrown out because “You can’t prove the government was doing all this spying because it’s secret, and even if it’s true, you can’t prove you were harmed by the gov’t doing this illegal thing.”

    That’s what it’s going to turn on now, with the Feds insisting that despite their listening in on everything that nobody but bad people are being harmed by this illegal and unconstitutional activity.

  47. BeccaM says:

    I’m not surprised. The core of the original message was “This is what your government is doing, what it said it never did but is doing anyway, and if it seems wrong that they’re keeping permanent records of every call you make and everything you do on the Internet, that’s because it is wrong.”

    Then the usual whistleblower smear machine ramped up, and now most of the controversy and argument going on in the media and in the blogs and whatnot has nothing to do with what Snowden revealed, but about his motives and intentions. Unfortunately, over time, people forget what the original leak or revelation was all about, and all that’s left is growing animus towards the person.

    We’re in that intermediate stage right now.

  48. There was a story back in like 2005, about AT&T’s servers, but it was denied, ACLU I believe sued, and the suit got thrown out. There was no proof so it flitted away. Now there’s proof.

  49. The breakdowns for most of this are on the original page, I didn’t want to copy everything.

  50. I think the question is not should he be convicted, but should there be a prosecution at all – which is inline with your question – should he be tried?

  51. mpeasee says:

    …I think its a generational thing…I wonder how much of the poll who wants prosecution are baby boomers?

  52. nicho says:

    It will only change when we get money out of politics. If we do, the crooks will look elsewhere. If we don’t, new crooked politicians will come in to take the place of the ones we toss out.

  53. AnitaMann says:

    How can anyone make a verdict on prosecution, when there hasn’t been a trial, they don’t know exactly everything that was leaked, and they don’t know what the law is? And why is their opinion relevant at this point anyway? See also: “if she floats, she’s a witch.”

  54. nicho says:

    Why are you surprised that the American public is awash in cognitive dissonance?

  55. Badgerite says:

    Actually, I think it kind of makes sense. Americans may be aware on some level that this type of monitoring of internet traffic and tracking of possible terrorist contacts by use of phone pen registries are necessary tools that the intelligence agencies need in the modern world, we still like these agencies to be aware that they are on a short lease. After 9/11 they were given a ‘blank check’. The public may feel that it is time to tug on the lease a bit and say ‘heel’. I think the whole episode was useful in that it made Congress look up from its partisan stupor for five seconds and understand that they do serve a vital role of oversight and the public expects them to take that seriously. Although most of what was reported was inflammatory and misleading and actually a bit of a ‘nothing burger’, the issues raised by the debate are valid ones and ones the country should be thinking about. As to prosecution, I personally would want him prosecuted but not to the fullest extent of the law. I wouldn’t throw the book at him only because what he actually revealed does not seem to me to be harmful to the national interest. It does not appear that he had the kind of access necessary, thank God, to do that. (low level tech guy). But, yes, I think he should be prosecuted.

  56. Bill_Perdue says:

    The polls indicate the confusion among Democrats and Republicans about ‘national security’. They’re told that the interests of the American people are the same as those of the government, the two major parties and of corporations.

    Nothing could be further from the truth. The attacks on US bases and embassies in Africa and Lebanon, the horrific mass murder of civilians on 9-11 and all the terrorist attacks since are the direct and sole responsibility of American policy makers who arm and aid the zionist bunkerstadt in it’s ethnic cleansing of Palestine. The US has interfered dozens of times against the interests of working people and the independence of nations from Morocco to Indonesia since FDR hosted a meeting with Saudi king Abdulaziz bin Abdulrahman Al-Saud on February 11, 1945.

    Those policies, from overthrowing elected governments to invasions and even genocide in Iraq have created a vast pool of hatred directed against the government and sometimes the people of the US.

    The American people, absent an active antiwar movement, are learning the hard way about the origins of the hated felt by Arabs and muslims for the US and it’s sometimes violent expression as anti-civilian terrorism and many of them buy into the lie that we have common interests with the government and the corporations it serves.

    The same confusion existed about Brad Manning and in this situation it will take some time for people to sort out the truth but an indication of how frightened the government is about this can be seen in the panicked spin the kept news are pushing.

    In the meantime serious people have to do what we can to debunk Obama’s spin, to defend Snowden and to free Brad Manning.

  57. Houndentenor says:

    Silly condew, Snowden isn’t a multi-million dollar donor to both parties. It’s now legal to bribe public officials in America thanks to SCOTUS. The banksters get bailouts but you’d go to jail for far less egregious crimes. It will only change when we kick out the crooked politicians.

  58. Houndentenor says:

    I remember the story years ago in which we were informed that Verizon was going to be turning over phone records. There was some minor outrage at the time. So how was this classified information?

  59. condew says:

    When John Yoo “found” a right to torture in the constitution, he did far more damage to the nation than Edward Snowden.

  60. condew says:

    I don’t like selective prosecution of the “little guy”. When Bankers and Brokers crash the world’s economy and get a bonus rather than jail, or the Bush administration violates civil service law and the Hatch act and nobody is fired or prosecuted, why get excited about a leak? We are becoming a nation that is absolutely ruthless in enforcing laws about running red lights and speeding, yet the IRS goes after middle class people because while the rich are often bigger cheats, they have lawyers who can make collection less easy.

    Since the wall fell, our betters have been pretty stingy about sharing any wealth with ordinary people. So I can see young people being less upset about a leak; it harms a country that doesn’t seem to be on their side.

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