Poll: Public wants congressional hearings on NSA surveillance

June 19, 2013

Americans are divided when it comes to charging Edward Snowden with a crime for leaking portions of the National Security Agency's sweeping surveillance of phone records and Internet activity, but they clearly want to know more, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. Nearly two-thirds said they want open, public congressional hearings on the previously secret programs.

Overall, 43 percent support and 48 percent oppose criminally charging Snowden, a former government contractor. A large majority of those who oppose the surveillance programs also oppose legal action against Snowden (65 percent), while backers of surveillance efforts are somewhat less resolute: 55 percent support charging him with a crime.

Some reluctance to criminalize the matter is driven by liberal Democrats. While 76 percent of liberal Democrats support the NSA's surveillance efforts, only 50 percent want Snowden to face criminal charges.

Among all Americans, most — 58 percent — support the NSA's program collecting extensive phone call records and Internet data. The result mirrors a Washington Post-Pew Research Center poll released last week that found 56 percent saying the NSA's tracking of phone call records of millions of Americans is "acceptable."

Public opinion polls — asking questions in different ways — have found varying levels of support for the NSA's surveillance programs, perhaps reflecting growing awareness since they were first revealed early in June in The Washington Post and Britain's Guardian newspaper. For instance, a CNN/ORC poll released Monday found 66 percent said the Obama administration was "right" in tracking (mostly) foreign Internet activity, while only 48 percent "approved" of broader phone and Internet data collection in a similarly timed Pew Research Center/USA Today poll. The ranging results reflect both the differing question wording, but also the complexity and novelty of the programs to which Americans are just now paying attention.

NRCC hitting Democrats on student loans: The National Republican Congressional Committee is hitting 16 House Democrats with paid Facebook ads that point to their vote against a GOP proposal to allow interest rates on federal student loans to fluctuate from year to year with the government’s cost of borrowing. The ads will target Democratic Reps. Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.), Ron Barber (Ariz.), Ami Bera (Calif.), Lois Capps (Calif.), Raul Ruiz (Calif.), Patrick Murphy (Fla.), Lois Frankel (Fla.), Bill Enyart (Ill.), Dave Loebsack (Iowa), Collin Peterson (Minn.), Rick Nolan (Minn.), Mike McIntyre (N.C.), Carol Shea-Porter (N.H.), Ann McLane Kuster (N.H.), Pete Gallego (Tex.), and Jim Matheson (Utah).

Fixbits:

In a big victory for the "Gang of Eight," the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said the Senate's bipartisan immigration bill would reduce federal deficits by nearly $200 billion over the next decade.

Rep. Ed Markey (D) and Republican Gabriel Gomez clashed over tax returns and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in the final debate of the Massachusetts Senate race. Neither candidate landed a knockout blow. That's good for Markey, who is winning.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) assured conservatives the chamber would not vote on an immigration bill that did not have the support of a majority of Republicans.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said Director of National Intelligence James Clapper lied to Congress during a March hearing.

The House passed a 20-week abortion ban 228-196.

Bill Ayers said President Obama should be tried for war crimes.

Journalist Michael Hastings died in a car crash at age 33.

Must-reads:

"Obama Has Plans to Cut U.S. Nuclear Arsenal, if Russia Reciprocates"  — Peter Baker and David E. Sanger, New York Times

"Officials: Surveillance programs foiled more than 50 terrorist plots"  — Ellen Nakashima, Washington Post

Clement is a pollster with Capital Insight, the independent polling group of Washington Post Media. Capital Insight Director Jon Cohen and pollster Peyton M. Craighill contributed to this report.

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Sean Sullivan · June 18, 2013