Americans Think Courts Failing to Limit Government Data Collection

More than half of Americans believe that the federal courts have failed to limit the U.S. government’s collection of personal information via phone records and the Internet, according to a new survey from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.

But that’s nothing compared to the 70 percent who believe that the government “uses this data for purposes other than investigating terrorism,” according to the organization’s summary of its survey. Another 63 percent of respondents indicated they thought the government is collecting information about the content of their communications.

The Pew Research Center surveyed 1,480 adults over the course of five days in July. “The public’s views of the government’s anti-terrorism efforts are complex, and many who believe the reach of the government’s data collection program is expansive still approve of the effort overall,” the organization’s summary added. “In every case, however, those who view the government’s data collection as far-reaching are less likely to approve of the program than those who do not.”

Some 47 percent of those surveyed approved of the government’s collection of phone and Internet data, while 50 percent disapproved. Among those who thought the government is reading their personal email or listening to their phone calls, some 40 percent approved of the data collection, even as 58 percent disapproved.

But more Americans are also concerned about their civil liberties. Some 47 percent of those surveyed believe the government has gone too far in restricting those liberties, while 35 percent say the government hasn’t gone far enough. “There has been a 15-point rise in the percentage saying their greater concern is civil liberties since Pew Research last asked the question in October 2010,” the summary reported. “This is the first time a plurality has expressed greater concern about civil liberties than security since the question was first asked in 2004.”

There’s much more, including how opinions of government surveillance break across political party lines on the Pew Research Center’s Website.

The public discussion over government surveillance and civil liberties has remained at the forefront since June, when The Guardian posted documents detailing a top-secret NSA program called PRISM that allegedly siphons personal information from the databases of some of the world’s largest tech companies. (Those tech companies have uniformly denied participation in any such program.) The documents came from Edward Snowden, a former NSA contractor and self-described “whistleblower” who is currently petitioning for asylum in a friendly country.

For those with an interest in keeping their data more private—no matter who may be snooping around—there are some handy tools out there.

 

Image: Pew Research Center

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