Millennials support Snowden — when they know who he is

Millennials support Snowden — when they know who he is
© Greg Nash

A majority of millennials both in the U.S. and around the globe who have heard about Edward Snowden say they have a positive opinion of the government leaker.

According to a new poll from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which has provided legal help to Snowden, 56 percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 34 who were familiar with Snowden had a positive opinion of him. 

He was seen more favorably in continental Europe, where between 78 percent and 86 percent of people in the age group who were familiar with Snowden supported him.

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Still, the poll found the former government contractor's name was not on the tip of everyone’s tongue.

In the U.S. 60 percent of millennials said they had heard or read even a little about Snowden. Familiarity with the former government contractor was highest in Germany, where 95 percent of millennials knew about him, and lowest in Australia, where less than half could pick him out of a crowd. 

The stats might prove heartening to comedian John Oliver, who recently confronted Snowden with interviews of people claiming not to know who the leaker was.

When it came to measuring the impact of his leaks, Americans were somewhat more pessimistic than those abroad. Just 40 percent of American millennials said the leaks would lead to new privacy protections, compared to 59 percent in Germany and 54 percent in the Netherlands. Only one-quarter of American millennials said the disclosures would lead to new government openness.

More people also predicted his acts would harm, rather than help, U.S. national security.

Still, the ACLU framed the results as largely positive in its mission to clamp down on government spying powers.

“A large and important segment of our society sees Snowden as hero and whistleblower — and its members are the future,” ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero wrote in a Los Angeles Times op-ed on Tuesday.

Despite the generally mixed perceptions of Snowden’s leaks nationally, support for him among the nation’s younger and generally more technologically savvy has remained somewhat higher.

As the U.S. population steadily shifts, that could point toward long-term changes for the powers of government agencies like the National Security Agency. According to the Census Bureau, American millennials are expected to surpass baby boomers to become the country’s largest living generation this year. 

“Old folks just don’t get it,” Romero said in a statement distributed by the ACLU. “The new generation will fix it if we don’t.”

Opposition to the NSA will burst onto the floors of Congress in coming weeks, as lawmakers begin negotiations on legislation to reform some of the agency’s program while also reauthorizing three expiring portions of the Patriot Act.

The poll was conducted in late February and surveyed about 1,000 18- to 34-year-olds in each of 10 countries: the U.S., Great Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Italy, Germany, Spain, France and the Netherlands.