While Edward Snowden’s Legacy May Be An Open Question Among Millennials, Collecting Personal Information for National Security is Not

More than Half of Millennials Unsure About Edward Snowden, the Rest are Split Between Calling Him a Patriot and Traitor

Given the events associated with Edward Snowden and the NSA scandal earlier in 2013, our students focused on a series of questions aimed at understanding how young Millennials under 30 view the actions of Edward Snowden, freedom and privacy, and what may or may not be appropriate methods of collecting personal data to aid in national security efforts.

When asked directly whether they considered Edward Snowden to be more of a patriot or traitor -- more than half (52%) indicated that they were unsure nearly five months after his story broke.  Twenty-two percent (22%) would describe him as a patriot, and the same number (22%) said traitor was a more fitting description.  We found that 18- to 29- year old Whites (25%) are significantly more likely than Blacks (15%) to consider Snowden a patriot.
Our poll respondents were then asked a hypothetical situation where “if you found yourself in a position similar to that of Edward Snowden, would you release the classified documents to the media, or would you not release the documents” -- and we found that by a margin of two-to-one young Millennials under 30 would not release classified documents to the media (31% would not release and 15% would release).  Again, 50 percent were unsure. 

Millennials Strongly Opposed To Government Collecting Personal Electronic Communication  for National Security Benefits

When 18- to 29- year olds were asked what, if any, kinds of personal information they approve of the government collecting to aid in national security, 30 percent approved of collecting social networking data and 24 percent approved of recording web browsing history.  GPS (19%), telephone calls (18%), email (17%) and text messages (15%) -- all more personal forms of communication -- were met with significantly less approval.

However, when we changed the question slightly (this was a split sample question) and added what personal information, if any, do you approve of the U.S. government collecting from you to aid national security efforts, the results changed significantly.  While social networking (19%) and web browsing history (15%) remained in the two places, both earned far less support when the possibility of collecting information from each respondent personally was suggested.  GPS (14%), email (14%), telephone calls (13%) and text messages (11%) were all statistically tied with web browsing and were areas that more than 4-in-5 young Millennials preferred to keep off limits to the government, even to aid in national security efforts.

While there was no significant difference between younger and older age cohorts on the general question of government surveillance, when the question focused on surveillance of them personally, 18- to 24 year olds were significantly less likely to approve of these measures than 25- to 29 year olds.

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