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Poll: Most think Edward Snowden should stand trial in U.S.

Michael Morell, former deputy director of the CIA, believes Edward Snowden stole secret documents from the National Security Agency on his own
Did Edward Snowden act alone in NSA leak? 03:16

By Sarah Dutton, Jennifer De Pinto, Anthony Salvanto and Fred Backus

National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden leaked information about the secret program that collected the phone and internet records of people in the U.S. and abroad – and his actions are not well-received by the public.  

 Most Americans – 61 percent - think Snowden should have to stand trial in the United States for his actions.  Far fewer – 23 percent - think he should be granted amnesty.  Republicans, Democrats, and independents all agree on this as well.

Meanwhile, 31 percent approve of Snowden’s actions, while most, 54 percent, disapprove. Majorities of Republicans, Democrats, and independents disapprove.

Americans are divided as to the impact on the country from making the NSA program public.  While 40 percent think the disclosure has been good for the country, 46 percent think it has been bad.

When asked to come up with a word that describes Edward Snowden, nearly a quarter volunteer either traitor or a similar word that questions his loyalty to his country, while 8 percent say he is “brave” or “courageous” or “a hero”.  Just 2 percent volunteered that he is a patriot or patriotic, and another 2 percent say “terrorist”.

Government Surveillance

Americans have become more skeptical in the last few months about the need for the government to collect the phone records of Americans in order to help find terrorists.  Now public opinion is divided:  47 percent think this is necessary, while 48 percent think it is not.  Last July, a slight majority thought it was necessary.


Mr. Obama’s recent announcement that the NSA would have to turn over the collected data to a third party has not shifted public approval of the practice.  Fifty-eight percent of Americans disapprove of federal government agencies collecting the phone records of average Americans, the same percentage as in June, when the secret NSA surveillance program was disclosed.

It has been revealed that the NSA listened to phone calls made by some foreign leaders who are allies of the U.S.  Fifty percent think this is acceptable, while 44 percent do not. 

Mr. Obama’s speech last Friday didn’t reassure Americans about his handling of this issue:  49 percent disapprove of the President’s handling of the NSA’s surveillance activities, and just 35 percent approve.  A slight majority of Democrats approve.


Fighting Terrorism and Privacy

Fifty-nine percent of Americans remain at least somewhat concerned about losing some of their privacy as a result of steps taken by the federal government to fight terrorism. Forty-two percent are concerned that the government might be collecting their own phone call records, while 57 percent are not concerned about that.

Overall, 41 percent of Americans think the government has gone too far in infringing on people’s privacy in its efforts to fight terrorism, while 43 percent think the balance is about right, and 12 percent think the government has not gone far enough.


This poll was conducted by telephone January 17-21, 2014 among 1,018 adults nationwide. Data collection was conducted on behalf of CBS News by Social Science Research Solutions of Media, Pa.  Phone numbers were dialed from samples of both standard land-line and cell phones.  The error due to sampling for results based on the entire sample could be plus or minus three percentage points. The error for subgroups may be higher.  Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish.  This poll release conforms to the Standards of Disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

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