Wednesday, July 10, 2013

What the American people think about Snowden and NSA

Perhaps you've heard about the Quinnipiac poll saying that a majority of Americans think Edward Snowden is a whistleblower rather than a traitor. And yes, the question they posed is just that binary.
Do you regard Edward Snowden, the national security consultant who released information to the media about the phone scanning program, as more of a traitor, or more of a whistle-blower?
I guess those of us who think he's simply a naive narcissistic hacker/leaker don't count, huh?

But boy, are folks jumping all over this one!
“The massive swing in public opinion about civil liberties and governmental anti-terrorism efforts, and the public view that Edward Snowden is more whistle-blower than traitor, are the public reaction and apparent shock at the extent to which the government has gone in trying to prevent future terrorist incidents,” said Peter Brown, assistant director of Quinnipiac’s polling institute.
Or - so said the guy who's polling firm framed that binary choice.

And of course Glenn Greenwald is celebrating on the streets of Rio as we speak.
As usual, the US government, its establishment press, and both political parties have been almost completely united in its views and objectives in this episode. The American people, however, seem to have reached a much different conclusion than the one prepared for and fed to them.
But here is some information from that same poll that didn't make the headlines:
What concerns you more about the government's anti-terrorism policies, that they have gone too far in restricting the average person's civil liberties, or that they have not gone far enough to adequately protect the country? Gone too far 45% and Not gone far enough 40%

Do you support or oppose the federal government program in which all phone calls are scanned to see if any calls are going to a phone number linked to terrorism? 51% support and 45% oppose

Do you think this program is necessary to keep Americans safe or not? 54% Yes and 40% No

Do you think this program is too much intrusion into Americans' personal privacy or not? 53% Yes and 44% No
If those results have your head spinning a bit, perhaps this short video titled "Students know more about Kim's new baby than NSA, Holder" will help to explain.

And no...I'm not claiming this is a scientific poll. But based on my interactions with the non-political junkie crowd, I'd say its pretty accurate. When even college students don't know who Eric Holder is and can't name a single Supreme Court Justice...I'm not sure we can count on polling in regards to the NSA and Snowden to tell us much.

That brings me to this. For a while now I've been thinking about trying to outline exactly what we do/don't know about NSA surveillance for those who are interested in learning the actual facts. Now I don't have to. Because Bob Cesca has done a brilliant job of doing just that. I recommend that you not only read it - but share it as widely as possible.


  1. I guess those of us who think he's simply a naive narcissistic hacker/leaker don't count, huh?

    Ha! Best description of this whole endeavor.

  2. Look, I was in the Smoky Mountains when this story first broke and let me tell you something...nobody cared! And it's not like this was an area with a high level of Obama support. The hotel I stayed at even had NSA hearings playing on the TV on in the lobby and nobody was watching.

    Besides, as we all know, public opinion is only one component (albeit a very important one). If public opinion was all we needed, then a lot of things would be different in Washington. Besides, where is this so-called "massive swing in public opinion," when you include the other poll questions?

    And this poll doesn't do Snowden any favors because the telephone program that he supposed "blew the whistle on" has a 51% approval rating.

    If you look at the entire picture, in totality, what you get is what seems like a contradictory picture. Americans want to feel safe and they are willing to give up a few civil liberties to feel secure. September 11th shattered our sense of safety. The GOP exploited that, but didn't even go after the people responsible for the attacks. Now, Obama and some Democrats are trying to undo the excesses (and they actually went after the 9/11 perpetrators).

    And guess who Greenwald and Snowden support? The party that exploited our fear, used it to start an unnecssary war, and then erode our civil liberties. They don't support the Democrat who, although may have kept some of the Bush policies in place, at least put in more oversight and curtailment to government surveillance.

    And yeah, let's not forget that Snowden is, indeed a naive narcissistic hacker/lacker.

  3. This poll not only illustrates confusion on the part of respondents, it also shows confusion on the part of the pollster. What the heck does it mean to say that "all phone calls are scanned"? Because this to me could imply that the NSA is accessing the content of all calls or it could also refer to just looking at metadata. I can understand not wanting to use "metadata" jargon in a poll question, but as written, the question is open to different interpretations, not all of them equally accurate. It doesn't surprise me that the follow-up questions produce weirdly inconsistent responses.

    1. Although I think you bring up valid points about the polling questions, it still appears as if many Americans still feel that its necessary to give up some privacy in order to feel safe. I'm not surprised by some of the contradictions this poll uncovers.

      However, the lead question forgot to mention that Snowden linked information to China, Russia, and other countries not friendly to the U.S. He only gave the U.S. media some of what he got. Who knows what he offered Russia, China, Ecuador, and now, maybe Venezuela?

      When you just say "released information to the U.S. media," of course people are going to say that he's a whistleblower and not a traitor. Duh! Leaking information to the US media, isn't an act of treason. But, giving classified information to other countries could easily fall into the treason category.