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.
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.