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Summary:

Updated: A narrow majority of Americans surveyed are okay with the government gathering data (or metadata) on our online activities, according to new Pew Research.

If you were outraged by disclosures of National Security Agency collecting data on citizens’ cell phone and internet use, you’re in the minority. Fifty-six percent of Americans surveyed said they found the privacy incursions an acceptable price to pay to stop terrorism, according to a new survey from the Pew Research Center and the Washington Post. 

Still, the 42 percent who found this unreasonable is not a tiny minority, which shows just how polarizing this debate is more than a decade after the September 11th attacks and a month after the Boston Marathon bombings. Ray Ozzie, a former Microsoft chief software architect, told GigaOM on Monday that he is concerned that this controversy will blow over without renewed debate on what privacy rights we are willing to cede — or not cede — to pursue security.

It does appear that Americans are less bothered about these incursions than Europeans who tend to be more concerned about data privacy and are up in arms about this NSA program.

Another takeaway from the survey: 45 percent of the 1,004 adults surveyed, said the government should be able to “monitor everyone’s email and other online activities if officials say this might prevent future terrorist attacks.” More than half (52 percent) said it should not have that ability to monitor our online lives.

Pew Research on NSA

Update: In a finding that surprised me, younger respondents — the Facebook generation — put more emphasis on protecting personal privacy than their elders. Fourty-five percent of those aged 18 to 29 year said it was more important for the government not to intrude on privacy even if that hinders terrorist investigations. Among those in the 30 to 49 group, that number falls off to 35 percent and for those over 50, just 27 percent said privacy trumps security.

This story was updated at 5:59 a.m. PDT with more information about how different age groups view privacy vs. security. 

  1. i would really like to see an age breakdown on this. seems to me younger(under 25) do not value there privacy(in terms of recorded history not immediate surroundings) very much at all.

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    1. there was some data in the original post (linked above) on this. I will add to the story — you’re right this is important.

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  2. Emerson Biggins Tuesday, June 11, 2013

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    1. sample size was 1,004 adults as stated

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  3. It adds NOTHING to the debate when even those within the technical press continue to obfuscate these issues.

    Use of words like “snooping” and “monitoring”… without accompanying definition/description is nothing but yellow journalism.

    The non-technical public is led to the conclusion that “Fred from NSA” is “listening-in” to their every communication.

    PLEASE: Draw the appropriate distinction between:
    Session logging: Headers/From/To/IP address etc…
    Content logging: Message Body – archiving text/voice/video
    Content analysis: off-line processing of archived content
    Real-time Monitoring: aka “wiretapping” in the POTS era…

    This -IS- a complicated issue… with important impacts on privacy and individual rights.
    Pejorative over-simplification for the sake of a headline adds nothing.

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  4. i see what you mean. Since i wanted to focus on the Pew research i short-cutted the explanation of what happened. I’ve tweaked the wording, but one reason i linked to past coverage is to provide that context. I would say, however, that a reasonable person might say that collection of meta data on our cell phone or internet use could fairly be called “snooping.”

    thanks for your comment.

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    1. Hmm, let me explain, why snooping
      Let’s say somebody follows you around, not close, but always an eye on you. Writes down,who you know when you saw whom and where …. and does the same for all people.

      Now you run for public office, but let’s just say you do not agree with common practice for a party. Now someone drops a hint that you belonged in your past to a terrorist group. You say you never did, did you? There is the rule of six degrees of separation, actually it’s a little more than 6 according to MS research. But there will be a link and they will be right(technically) and have the data to prove it, only the ones in the know about data will giggle. What’s your chance to be elected? Or shut up and fit in, it’s not about terrorists it’s about conformity and complacency.

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  5. Jacques Cousteau Tuesday, June 11, 2013

    I would just like to say that this encroachment on people’s right for privacy is unacceptable.
    Their claim that this was meant to help us fight terrorism is a lame excuse to justify their actions.
    Throughout the time governments found the ever changing contemporary boogie man to scare and help them whip the populous into shape to comply. It used to be the Jews, the “Black” people, communists…now terrorism.

    Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely

    I want to know, how did this encroachment help prevent the Boston marathon massacre?

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  6. I recall a survey from several years ago where people were asked about various rights contained in the Bill of Rights, without making it clear that they were such rights. For example, they wouldn’t ask about whether the person supported freedom of speech, but instead about whether they supported a type of activity which would be covered by free speech. There was very little support for many/most of the provisions of the Bill of Rights.

    Also, politics is undoubtedly skewing these results. Some liberals will support President Obama no matter what he does and some conservatives will approve of anything in the name of fighting terrorism.

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  7. It may be that “most Americas” (of the 1004 sampled) don’t really understand the issues clearly, assuming that “I have nothing to hide” means that they are safe from intrusive behavior.

    This article by Solove may help disabuse them of this notion.

    http://chronicle.com/article/Why-Privacy-Matters-Even-if/127461/.

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  8. 56% of Americans haven’t read the Constitution.

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