NEW YORK – The American Civil Liberties Union today released the results of an international poll showing that majorities of millennials familiar with Edward Snowden around the world have an overwhelmingly positive opinion of him and believe that his disclosures will lead to greater privacy protections.
The poll, conducted in late February, surveyed 18- to 34-year-olds in the United States, Great Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Italy, Germany, Spain, France, and the Netherlands. The most favorable views of Snowden are in continental Europe, where between 78 and 86 percent of millennials familiar with Snowden have positive opinions of him. In the United States, 56 percent of millennials have favorable opinions of Snowden.
“The broad support for Edward Snowden among millennials around the world should be a message to democratic countries that change is coming,” said Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the ACLU. “They are a generation of digital natives who don’t want government agencies tracking them online or collecting data about their phone calls.”
Opinions of millennials are particularly significant in light of January 2015 findings by the U.S. Census Bureau that they are projected to surpass the baby-boom generation as the United States’ largest living generation this year.
The poll also showed millennials in each country say Snowden’s disclosures will lead to more protection of privacy rights. In Germany, Italy, Spain, and the Netherlands, 54 to 59 percent said they thought Snowden’s actions would lead to more privacy protection.
This optimism may be somewhat surprising given the direction that some of the governments in the countries polled are heading. The parliaments of Canada, France, and the Netherlands are considering expansive surveillance powers similar to those of the USA Patriot Act, and Australia recently enacted such a law. In the United Kingdom, a recent report from a parliamentary committee recommended a more transparent legal framework to govern electronic surveillance, but it concluded that British intelligence services’ bulk collection of email and phone data did not amount to mass surveillance because the communications were only being collected and not actually read.
But while governments are attempting to preserve and expand their ability to spy on people, technology companies have recognized that the public demands greater privacy protections and are increasingly taking measures to circumvent surveillance. Apple, Google, Whatsapp, and others have adopted new forms of encryption and tools to protect consumer privacy. On March 25, the Reform Government Surveillance coalition, which includes Google, Apple, AOL, Dropbox, Evernote, Facebook, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Twitter, and Yahoo, joined civil rights groups and trade associations in sending a letter to U.S. lawmakers calling for the government to end the bulk collection of data.
“Efforts to rein in government surveillance are inevitable given the sure rise of the millennial generation and its broad support for Edward Snowden,” Romero said. “Old folks just don’t get it. The new generation will fix it if we don’t.”
Similarly, international bodies responsible for establishing human rights norms are also taking steps to rein in the surveillance state. The U.N. Human Rights Council voted on March 26 to appoint a special rapporteur to monitor the state of privacy rights worldwide, a move that was prompted by concern over U.S. surveillance practices and the security of digital information. Once a human rights expert is selected to be the rapporteur, he or she will visit various countries, conduct research, document rights violations, and ultimately help shape the evolution of the applicable human rights law.
The ACLU has long called on the U.S. government to end its mass surveillance programs. In June, Congress will have a chance to end a major one when key provisions of the Patriot Act are set to expire, including Section 215, which the National Security Agency claims as the basis for its bulk collection of Americans’ phone call records.
“Any effort to fix Section 215 of the Patriot Act would only make a bad law a little less bad,” Romero said. “Congress should see the writing on the wall and let the NSA’s unconstitutional mass phone spying program end with the whimper it deserves.”
The ACLU has also called on the U.S. government to offer clemency to Snowden for exposing the National Security Agency’s illegal spying apparatus. Last month, the Committee of Legal Affairs and Human Rights of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) called on the U.S. to allow Snowden to return home without fear of criminal prosecution. The resolution, which will be debated for adoption by the PACE general assembly in June, also calls on member states to offer asylum to Snowden if the U.S. is unwilling to drop its charges.
“The government will look back in shame at its effort to prosecute Snowden for blowing the whistle on the NSA,” said Romero. “I don’t think there is any doubt that Snowden will inevitably take his rightful place in U.S. history as a whistleblower and patriot.”
A Los Angeles Times op-ed written by Anthony D. Romero published today on the poll is at:
The poll results are at:
More information on NSA spying is at: