New polls show that the NSA whistleblower’s popularity remains strong among young Americans and Europeans. But older Americans, Brits and Canadians aren’t as enthused.
A carnival float depicting US president Barack Obama, left, putting whistleblower Edward Snowden on an electric chair during the traditional carnival parade in Duesseldorf, western Germany, on Monday, March 3, 2014.(AP Photo)
Edward Snowden, the exiled American whistleblower, continues to be a controversial figure in the United States.
In June 2013, Snowden began leaking classified documents relating to the United States’ mass surveillance program to reporters at The Guardian. With the assistance of WikiLeaks’ Sarah Harrison, Snowden fled prosecution for his actions to Hong Kong and then to Russia, where he lives on asylum today.
Although Time magazine called “Citizenfour,” Laura Poitras’ Oscar-winning documentary about Snowden’s flight from the U.S., one of its “Top 10 Best Movies” of 2014, public opinion of the whistleblower remains much more divided.
According to a poll commissioned from KRC Research by the American Civil Liberties Union, of the two-thirds of Americans who have heard of Snowden, just 36 percent support his actions. Only 8 percent of Americans are said to have a “very positive” opinion of him.
Snowden’s popularity is dramatically higher overseas, where 95 percent of Germans have heard of Snowden and 84 percent support him. That support was matched by the same percentage of Italians and 64 percent of Australians. Yet opinions are more divided in Canada and England, where he’s supported by 58 percent and 54 percent of the population respectively.
The figures in the U.S. reflect the success of the American propaganda campaign against the whistleblower. Political pundits and the media have repeatedly called his actions traitorous, demanded that he return to face a justice system almost guaranteed to treat him unfavorably, and questioned whether he is working in collusion with the Russians, even though he only remains in Russia because his U.S. passport has been cancelled.
While acknowledging that the National Security Agency needs to be “more transparent,” presidential candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reiterated her opposition to Snowden in a February interview with Re/Code, an independent tech news organization.
“I could never condone what he did,” Clinton told Re/Code’s Kara Swisher. “He stole millions of documents.”
Clinton also argued that only a small percentage of the stolen documents apply to civil liberties issues, perhaps alluding to her former suggestion that Snowden was collaborating with Vladimir Putin, despite the fact that Snowden’s intended final destination was Latin America.
Though the general public may have an unfavorable view of Snowden, tech companies are working to follow his advice by implementing stronger encryption schemes designed to circumvent mass surveillance.
Such initiatives are coming even despite the NSA’s objections, pushback which may be related to Silicon Valley’s young workforce. According to the same KRC Research poll, Snowden’s popularity increases dramatically among 18-34 year olds both in the U.S. and abroad. In the U.S., support by the “Millennial” generation rises to 56 percent, and is even higher — between 76 and 86 percent — in Europe.
Indeed, Millennial activists made headlines recently for placing an unauthorized sculpture of Snowden in a New York City park, then replacing it with a Snowden hologram after city officials removed the bust.
Responding to the poll, the ACLU’s Executive Director Anthony Romero described how Millennials give him hope for a future free from mass surveillance:
“Efforts to rein in government surveillance are inevitable given the sure rise of the millennial generation and its broad support for Edward Snowden. Old folks just don’t get it. The new generation will fix it if we don’t.”