The majority of Brits believe surveillance whistleblower Edward Snowden is a hero, according to a survey, and have a far more favourable view of the former National Security Agency contractor than Americans.
The Angus Reid Global Survey, released exclusively to The Huffington Post, suggests 60% of Brits are supportive of Snowden, who leaked secure volumes about government surveillance abuses to the Guardian's Glenn Greenwald.
In Canada 67% favour his actions.
But in the US, opinion is fractured, with 51% calling Snowden a hero, and 40% dubbing him a traitor. And the dividing lines show a generation gap - with a majority of Americans under 35 applauding Snowden while those over 55 condemn him.
Tories are far more accepting of surveillance, the survey found, and far more likely to consider Snowden a traitor.
That division has been reflected in the traditional conservative media in the UK, like the Daily Mail and the Telegraph, both of which have been highly critical of the Guardian's surveillance exposes, despite regularly championing press freedom in other quarters.
Labour and Lib Dem supporters, in turn more likely Guardian readers, are likely to consider Snowden more of a hero, and are much more wary of surveillance activities generally, and much less trustful of their national government as information guardian.
“What’s really interesting on this issue of trust is how it breaks by political support,” Angus Reid, chairman of Angus Reid Public Opinion.
“I’ve rarely in my career seen American Republicans, British Labour supporters and Canadian Liberal and NDP supporters more or less taking the same position on an issue.”
Brits are prepared to tolerate far more intrusion into their private lives than our transatlantic cousins, the survey found.
In the UK, 52% said monitoring internet communications of the general public should not be tolerated, compared to 60 per cent in the US and Canada.
“There’s no question that he [Snowden] has become the catalyst and the concrete manifestation of an issue that otherwise seems to be very abstract and vague,” said Reid.
“It’s an interesting issue because it’s come from nowhere. Now it occupies a top-five spot as a significant issue in each of the three countries.”
“In the UK, levels of acceptability are a little higher and I think that’s because of their longer history with CCTV, the IRA and other security issues they’ve had to face over the decades,” Reid added.
More than 4,500 Canadians, Britons and Americans took part in the online survey about their attitudes towards web surveillance.
Very few of those polled in any country said they felt that information gathered should be used for “any purpose the government chooses”.
Government trust levels are at rock bottom, the report found. Only 7% of people in the UK trust their governments implicitly with their data, 5% in the US and Canada.
But nearly half of the respondents in each country believe that in reality, governments will use their information however they want.
“That speaks to a lof of cynicism out there,” Reid said.
“Current surveillance agencies are really having to rethink how they respond to this sudden public spotlight they’ve been put under.”
In all three countries, a majority of respondents said they consider the issue of government spying on internet communications important.
Nearly 80% of respondents in the three countries said the issue of electronic surveillance is important. Reid believes that shows the Snowden saga and policy implications have really hit a nerve with people that could extend into forthcoming elections.
“For generations we’ve always looked upon the cyber-security as our best defence against the bad guys,” he said.
“And now here are these faceless nameless agencies that are having to confront a real onslaught of negative public opinion.”
And Reid believes they’re going to stay on the public radar.
“This is a story that’s going to stretch out for a number of years as governments and these agencies try to figure out how to get on the right side of public opinion, try to figure out what to do politically about it.”
The survey was conducted on Oct. 23 with a total sample size of 4,536, including 1,519 Canadians, 1,010 Americans and 2,007 Britons.