Poll: 65 percent want Congress to hold public hearings on NSA

Nearly two-thirds of Americans say they want Congress to hold public hearings on the National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance programs revealed earlier this month by former Defense contractor Edward Snowden, according to a new poll released Wednesday.

The survey, by The Washington Post and ABC News, found 65 percent support public hearings, while three in 10 oppose such a move. 

Support for the hearings is even across parties, with two-thirds of Democrats, 69 percent of Republicans and 63 percent of independents backing the call.

The poll finds the public also generally supports the intelligence-gathering programs. According to the survey, 58 percent back the agency collecting extensive phone and Internet data related to specific investigations, while 39 percent oppose the programs.

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Democrats are most likely to back the surveillance efforts, with 73 percent saying they support the programs. By contrast, 49 percent of Republicans and 51 percent of independents are okay with the NSA programs.

Voters though also remain sympathetic to Snowden for revealing the programs. Despite prominent lawmakers on both sides of the aisle blasting the 29-year-old as a "traitor" and calling for his arrest, 48 percent of those surveyed oppose charging the leaker with a crime. By contrast, 43 percent support his prosecution. 

Earlier Wednesday, President Obama defended the NSA programs at a joint press conference in Berlin, claiming "at least 50 threats have been averted" thanks to information gleaned from the programs.

"Lives have been saved, and the encroachment on privacy has been strictly limited by a court-approved process," the president said.

Obama also insisted the surveillance programs were "a circumscribed, narrow system."

"This is not a situation in which we are rifling through the ordinary emails of German citizens or American citizens or French citizens or anyone else," Obama said.