In two separate national polls, 55% of Americans believe former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden did the right thing when he revealed the existence of a widespread government surveillance program collecting telephone data on US citizens.
The polls, conducted by NBC News and by Swiss-based secure cloud storage service Tresorit, show that over half of respondents believe Snowden was justified when he released thousands of classified documents to journalists Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, and Britian's The Guardian newspaper. Eighty percent of Snowden's supporters believe the leaked documents prove that the Constitution was violated.
Thirty percent of those polled disapproved of the leaks. And 34% feel that Snowden should not have fled the United States.
Snowden leaked the documents in June of 2013, and not every document has yet been released to the public. In addition to the PRISM program, through which the NSA and its British equivalent collected metadata about the phone calls of American citizens without warrants, the leaks have also revealed the existence of wide-ranging domestic surveillance programs and technologies, with names like Tempora, BOUNDLESSINFORMANT, MUSCULAR, and Fascia. Much of this domestic surveillance, ostensibly designed to combat terrorism and drug trafficking, was initiated under the George W. Bush administration, but was pursued aggressively by the Obama White House.
Conservative pundits have been split on the Snowden affair, with those closely aligned with Beltway Republicans condemning the former systems administrator and counterintelligence trainer as a traitor and a coward; independent conservatives are more concerned about the crimes against American citizens revealed by the leaks than about Snowden's motives or methods. Even those who think a program like PRISM is a necessary tool in the War on Terror are worried that the program was secret and lacked oversight. Experts on both sides of the political divide say the program is actually useless in fighting terrorists, giving rise to speculation about the real purpose of the program.
Federal prosecutors have charged Snowden with theft and espionage, despite candidate Obama's promises that whistleblowers would be protected if he were elected. The Huffington Post noted that Obama's whistleblower protection quote was deleted from Change.gov shortly after the Snowden affair broke.
Snowden is currently living on a one-year temporary renewable asylum in Russia, and Greenwald and Poitras have been reluctant to return to the United States, fearing prosecution. The PRISM program, which collects information about who called whom and when, but also has access to the content of certain emails and chats, is still ongoing.