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30 Jul, 2013 01:59

Americans more concerned about privacy than terrorism - Pew study

Americans more concerned about privacy than terrorism - Pew study

For the first time in almost a decade, the majority of Americans are more concerned about the government infringing on their civil liberties than about a potential terrorist attack, according to a new poll by Pew Research.

US citizens have traditionally responded to similar polls by saying the government has not yet gone far enough to protect the country from threats. But new results from Pew Research Center reveal that public opinion has drastically shifted - especially in the wake of NSA spying programs leaked by Edward Snowden nearly two months ago.

Pew reported that “a majority of Americans – 56 per cent – say that federal courts fail to provide adequate limits on telephone and internet data [which] the government is collecting as part of its anti-terrorism efforts.” An even larger percentage – 70 per cent – believes the government uses the data for “purposes other than investigating terrorism.” Another 63 per cent believe “the government is also gathering information about the content of communications.” 

Image from www.people-press.org

“Overall, 47 per cent say their greater concern about government anti-terrorism policies is that they have gone too far in restricting the average person’s civil liberties, while 35 per cent say they are more concerned that the policies have not gone far enough to protect the country,” the authors of the poll wrote. “This is the first time in Pew research polling that more have expressed concern over civil liberties than protection from terrorism since the question was first asked in 2004.”

Prior to Snowden’s disclosures, a 2010 Pew poll found that 58 per cent of Americans felt the government had “not gone far enough to protect the country,” although the NSA surveillance was already underway at that time without the public’s knowledge.

The sea change was reflected in Congress last week when a bill to cut funding to the NSA surveillance program failed to pass by a mere seven votes. Both Democrats and Republicans skirted US President Barack Obama and top leaders of both parties, in an attempt to use legislation as an oversight to the burgeoning intelligence gathering.

Representative Jim Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican and an author of the original Patriot Act of 2001 which authorized the spying, has publicly advocated repealing the law. He was among those in Congress who voted for an amendment to defund NSA programs.

“The time has come to stop it, and the way we stop it is to approve this amendment,” he said, adding days later that he had not planned on speaking. “I was able to say what needed to be said in a minute.”

Image from www.people-press.org

While even lawmakers who are in favor of the NSA’s indiscriminate and warrantless surveillance might recognize that more oversight is inevitable, Glenn Greenwald of the Guardian has suggested that top Democrats and Republicans benefit financially from the unpopular laws.

“But with a few rare and noble exceptions, the Intelligence Committees in both house of Congress are filled with precisely those members who are most slavishly beholden to, completely captured by, the intelligence community over which they supposedly serve as watchdogs,” Greenwald wrote in a column on Monday.

“Many receive large sums of money from the defense and intelligence industries…in particular, the two chairs of those committees – Democrat Dianne Feinstein in the Senate and Republican Mike Rogers in the House – are such absolute loyalists to the NSA and the national security state generally that it is usually impossible to distinguish their behavior, mindset and comments from those of NSA officials.”

AFP Photo / Spencer Platt