June 10, 2013— -- Ever since Edward Snowden outed himself as the whistleblower who leaked information about secret NSA surveillance programs, some people can't stop talking about the fact he is a millennial.
"That'll prove Time magazine wrong!" the argument goes.
But a new Pew Research Center/Washington Post poll paints a more complex picture of young Americans' views on the government's anti-terror tactics.
On principle, young people appear to hold different views than older folks on privacy concerns. Forty-five percent of Americans ages 18-29 say that it's more important not to intrude on personal privacy, even if it limits the government's ability to investigate possible terrorist threats. That's not a majority, but it's a much higher percentage than every other age group.
But in practice, millennials don't really disagree with older Americans over the type of activities exposed by Snowden. Fifty-five percent of young Americans say that it's acceptable for the NSA to secretly obtain phone records of millions of Americans in an effort to investigate terrorism. Overall, 56 percent of all Americans support such a program.
Americans are less willing to approve of the NSA program that tracks online activity (45 percent accept). But millennials are just as likely to accept such a program (46 percent accept).
The one thing that sets millennials apart from the rest of America, according to the poll, is their attentiveness to the story. About one-in-four Americans say that they are following the NSA snooping story very closely in the news. But only 12 percent of 18-29 year-olds are following the story very closely, the poll says. That tracks with most news stories; older Americans are more tuned in than younger Americans, according to Pew.
Separate polls show that millennials have looser attitudes than the general population about sharing their data online with businesses. So it's possible that mentality has spilled over into the views about the government's access to personal information online.
Even if most Americans -- young people included -- are comfortable with these type of surveillance programs, that's not enough justify them. The government's expansive reach into the digital activity of millions of Americans has sparked a fierce debate over the nation's anti-terror tactics.
But those trying to make the activities of Edward Snowden into a blanket statement about the views of an entire generation are missing the mark.