A majority of American voters now believe that National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden is a whistleblower—not a traitor—and that the government is overreaching in its anti-terrorism efforts, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll.
The poll, released Wednesday, found that 55 percent of voters view Snowden, a 30-year-old former NSA contractor, as a whistleblower. However, 34 percent of voters remain convinced that Snowden is a traitor for leaking top secret documents to The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald regarding America’s widespread surveillance operations.
There also has been a dramatic shift in how Americans view the government’s anti-terrorism strategy. The poll found that 45 percent of voters believe the government’s operations go too far and restrict civil liberties. In 2010, 63 percent of voters said the government wasn’t going far enough in protecting the country.
“The fact that there is little difference now along party lines about the overall anti-terrorism effort and civil liberties and about Snowden is in itself unusual in a country sharply divided along political lines about almost everything,” said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. “Moreover, the verdict that Snowden is not a traitor goes against almost the unified view of the nation’s political establishment.”
Snowden’s leaks revealed how the government can sweep up domestic phone records and monitor Americans emails among other Internet activity with the approval of the so-called FISA court, which operates in complete secrecy.
Officials have defended the government’s surveillance activity as instrumental in preventing future attacks. NSA Director General Keith Alexander testified to Congress last month that the tactics revealed by Snowden have foiled more than 50 plots.
Public support for Snowden comes as he reportedly remains holed up in a Russian airport after fleeing from Hong Kong last month. The United States has indicted him under the Espionage Act.
Snowden is seeking asylum in a handful of countries, including some in Latin America.