Polls say Americans are concerned about National Security Agency surveillance. According to a progressive group's survey, many want to see a top intelligence official punished for giving Congress inaccurate answers about the NSA's efforts.
An internal NSA audit, released Thursday by The Washington Post, found that the agency has violated privacy rules thousands of times every year since 2008. But even before those revelations, a majority of voters in five state-level polls said that James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, should be prosecuted for giving Congress a "clearly erroneous" answer about NSA surveillance.
The five polls were conducted by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling for the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, which has raised money for NSA leaker Edward Snowden's defense fund.
In the spring, Clapper denied to Congress that the NSA collected "any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans." He later told NBC's Andrea Mitchell that he had given the "least untruthful" answer possible. (On Monday, he was tapped by President Barack Obama to establish a "high-level group of outside experts" to review surveillance and privacy issues.)
Sixty-nine percent of voters in Kentucky said Clapper should face charges for perjury, as did 68 percent in Texas, 65 percent in Iowa, 57 percent in Hawaii and 54 percent in California.
The wording of the PPP question makes a strong case for Clapper's guilt. The full text:
Edward Snowden revealed that the Director of National Intelligence lied to Congress about whether the government was collecting millions of phone and Internet records from ordinary Americans. The Director has since admitted he did not tell the truth. Do you think the Director of National Intelligence should be prosecuted for perjury?
Other recent polling by nonpartisan groups has found an uptick in concern about civil liberties and a negative rating of Obama for his handling of the issue. Opinions are not always split down party lines. In a July ABC/Washington Post poll, "fully 70 percent of Democrats and 77 percent of Republicans said the NSA's phone and Internet surveillance program intrudes on some Americans' privacy rights. What’s more, Democrats and Republicans who did see intrusions were about equally likely to say they were 'not justified:' 51 and 52 percent respectively." That's in contrast to 2006, when Democrats were far more concerned than Republicans about the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping program.
How Americans view surveillance programs, though, varies considerably depending on how people are asked about them, with most willing to accept intelligence focused on terror suspects but warier about wider sweeps. Many are also conflicted about the balance between enhancing security and protecting privacy.
Americans differ widely in their perceptions of exactly what kind of surveillance is being conducted. In a June HuffPost/YouGov poll, 38 percent thought the NSA's efforts included listening to any American's phone calls without a warrant, and 42 percent thought they included reading any American's email without a warrant. Obama has "unequivocally" denied both claims.
Views of Snowden are mixed as well. A Quinnipiac poll released Aug. 1 found that 55 percent of Americans considered him more of a whistle-blower, while 34 percent viewed him as more of a traitor. In the July ABC/Post survey, however, 53 percent said he should be charged with a crime.
PPP's polls were taken in late July and early August, and used automated phone interviews to survey 1,375 Kentucky voters, 1,083 Texas voters, 964 Iowa voters, 806 California voters and and 807 Hawaii voters.
Mark Blumenthal contributed reporting.