Americans are almost evenly divided when it comes to concern over mass government spying nearly two years after the leak of unprecedented bulk surveillance programs by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
According to a Monday report by Pew Research, 52 percent of Americans “describe themselves as ‘very concerned’ or ‘somewhat concerned’ about government surveillance of Americans’ data and electronic communications,” while 46 percent were “not very” or “not at all concerned.”
Of respondents who have heard of the programs, 61 percent “have become less confident the surveillance efforts are serving the public interest,” and 37 percent have become more confident.
Fifteen percent of Americans have begun taking steps to secure data online by customizing privacy controls on social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, and another 15 percent say they’ve altered the way they use cellphones.
When it comes to taking the additional step of using encryption, 40 percent of Americans haven’t used or considered using the anonymous web browsing platform Tor, and 39 percent haven’t even heard of it. A similar number haven’t used or considered encrypted email services or privacy plugins such as PGP or DoNotTrackMe. Fifty-four percent believe such tools would be too difficult to find or use.
Pew found that there were “no partisan differences when it comes to those who have changed their use of various technologies.”
A larger percentage approve of such surveillance provided it’s deployed overseas or against high-profile public figures. For instance, 60 percent said it was okay to monitor the communications of American and foreign leaders, and 54 percent said it was acceptable to monitor foreign citizens in general.
Fifty-seven percent said it was “unacceptable for the government to monitor the communications of U.S. citizens.”
The study comes several months before the congressional deadline to renew several key provisions of the Patriot Act, which provide the legal underpinning for such programs. (RELATED: Lawmakers Push To Pass NSA Bill Before Patriot Act Expires)
An extension is unlikely to pass without at least some of the changes proposed in a bill defeated late last year by Senate Republicans, who have yet to propose a solution of their own. (RELATED: Senate Sinks NSA Reform)
Officials in the intelligence community including Director of National Intelligence James Clapper have already begun warning that the U.S. will face a significant risk of missing valuable intelligence related to terrorism without renewal. (RELATED: NSA Bulk Records Collection Faces Renewal)