More than half of Americans think the man who leaked sensitive information about the massive and secret government surveillance program did the right thing. But the new national poll suggests an almost equal amount say the former intelligence contractor should be prosecuted.
And the Time survey indicates a wide generational divide, with younger people showing much more support for the actions of Edward Snowden.
Documents Snowden provided to journalists revealed the existence of the secret National Security Agency programs to collect records of domestic telephone calls in the United States and the Internet activity of overseas residents. Snowden, who fled to Hong Kong, was fired from his position Monday at the Booz Allen Hamilton consulting firm. The FBI is investigating the leaks.
According to the poll, 54% say Snowden did a "good thing" and 30% disagreed. But 53% say Snowden should be prosecuted for the leak, with 28% saying he should not face legal action. The survey was conducted Monday and Tuesday.
The survey indicates younger and older Americans don't see eye-to-eye over the leak. Seventy percent of those ages 18-34 say Snowden did a "good thing." That number drops to 50% for those ages 35-54 and to 47% for those age 55 and older. Forty-one percent of those ages 18-34 say the leaker should be prosecuted. That number rises to 56% for those ages 35-54 and to 62% for those 55 and older.
When it comes to Snowden's actions, the new poll differs from a Gallup survey released Wednesday. That poll indicated Americans divided over Snowden's actions, with 44% saying it was right for Snowden to share information about the surveillance programs and 42% saying it was wrong.
The new poll from Time indicates Americans are split over the government's use of surveillance programs to prevent terrorist attacks, with 48% approving and 44% disapproving. While there was little generational divide on the question, there was a wide partisan gap, with just 39% of Republicans approving of the programs. That number rises to 50% among independents and 58% among Democrats.
FBI Director Robert Mueller said Thursday at House Judiciary Committee hearing that secret government surveillance programs disclosed by leaks of classified information have been conducted in adherence with the U.S. Constitution and federal laws. Some lawmakers have complained that the actions go beyond the scope of the Patriot Act passed after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Gen. Keith Alexander, the National Security Agency chief, testified Thursday at a U.S. Senate hearing, said that phone records obtained by the government helped prevent "dozens" of terrorist events.
The Time poll was conducted June 10-11, with 805 adults nationwide questioned by telephone. The survey's overall sampling error is plus or minus three percentage points.