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.


CyberDisobedience on Substack | @aravosis | Facebook | Instagram | 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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