The Washington Post

America’s ‘freedom’ reputation is on the decline a year after NSA revelations

A main selling point of the U.S. brand on the international stage has long been summed up with the screech of eagles and one word: "Freedom." But in the wake of the revelations about U.S. surveillance programs from former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden last year, the world is less convinced of the U.S.'s respect for personal freedoms according to new survey results from Pew Research.

The Snowden revelations appear to have damaged one major element of America’s global image: its reputation for protecting individual liberties. In 22 of 36 countries surveyed in both 2013 and 2014, people are significantly less likely to believe the U.S. government respects the personal freedoms of its citizens. In six nations, the decline was 20 percentage points or more.

(Pew Research)
(Pew Research)

Pew calls this decline "the Snowden Effect." And some of the drops are significant -- especially in countries where NSA surveillance received major domestic news coverage like Germany and Brazil.

Still, Pew says, the U.S.'s reputation for respecting personal freedoms is relatively strong compared to other nations. Among the 44 countries surveyed, a median of 58 percent said the U.S. government respects individual liberties versus the 56 percent who said the same about France and the only 28 percent for Russia.

But the Pew survey does reveal broad global opposition to NSA actions, with large majorities saying U.S. monitoring of leaders and citizens in their countries as well as its snooping on its own citizens is unacceptable.

(Pew Research)

However, as Pew notes, distaste for its surveillance practices hasn't made the U.S. an international pariah yet: Some 65 percent of those surveyed still hold a favorable opinion of the U.S.


Andrea Peterson covers technology policy for The Washington Post, with an emphasis on cybersecurity, consumer privacy, transparency, surveillance and open government.
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