I am often critical of fact finding, statistical analysis and polls, all of which can be heavily impacted by sample size, the questions used, the individual reporting the results etc. I am also typically wary of anecdotal 'data' for some of the same reasons and more. All that said, and relatively small sample size aside, I found it striking recently that, at a social gathering composed of intelligent, educated, thoughtful people of various political stripes, the main factor separating how people viewed the actions of Edward Snowden was age.
Very roughly, it appears that those from their late teens/early twenties to their late thirties were more inclined to view Snowden (or at least his actions) favorably. The general theme was that they appreciated that he had brought to light some governmental activities that many people of the age group had already suspected. Their parents' generation (and theirs) had a different outlook. Words like traitor were thrown around almost carelessly given the penalty that can result from a legal action based on the claim. The general theme seemed to be that, in a post-9/11 world, that discussing the espionage techniques and capabilities of the country put people at risk.
For some time, I couldn't necessarily figure out why the difference existed. After all, those in their fifties and sixties will have recalled the Watergate scandal, the core of which was domestic espionage, albeit between political parties (although many have noted that Snowden's actions could easily be classified as political in the way he intended them). While it is true that break-ins and cover-ups figured heavily in that chapter of history, it is also true that the focal point of all of those actions was domestic spying.
However, after a while, I began to formulate an opinion on why the age gap existed. At least for some, it may have more to do with how the younger generation uses technology - and therefore better understands the implications of that use - compared with how their parents use it.
Twenty- and thirty-somethings went to class not with notebooks made of paper, but of circuits. They are more likely to find life mates (or at least mates for the weekend) on the internet. Naughty trysts and rather embarrassing nights out that used to happen under cover of darkness behind bleachers, in back seats and in the less conspicuous corners of bars are now memorialized with photo evidence for all the world to see. Medical records that used to be locked in a file cabinet are now stored in databases. People can do more with their phones than supercomputers used to be able to accomplish.
While their parents have adopted technologies as well, it is unclear (to this observer at least) that they can grasp just how much of the activity of their everyday lives is captured up in code. Meanwhile, younger people who have experienced everything from first date requests to bullying on the internet may have a much better understanding of what their digital footprint could be if all of those interactions were combed through and stored in a central location.
There may, of course, be other factors. Those in their twenties and teens might not recall 9/11 with the same horror as older individuals. War weariness and poor economic conditions may have increased skepticism of the government in those whose friends and close relatives have had to deal more directly with both. Meanwhile, regardless of political affiliation, conservatism (with a small 'c'), and the trust in authority that often comes with it, tends to arise more broadly in those of a certain age.
That said, knowledge of 'how the internet works' has seemed to make knowledge of how the information that flows through it can be (mis)used a lot more frightening.