When Edward Snowden leaked information about the NSA’s global surveillance program, including that the NSA is spying on Americans through collection of phone, email, and Internet records, I felt a variety of emotions. First, I feel that what Snowden did was un-American and wrong. And while I think that what the NSA is doing to the American public is very invasive…at the same time, there’s a good chance that it may be necessary for our national security. I see both sides, but overall, I’m just uncomfortable with the whole thing.
Anyway, the NSA spying story has been back in the news recently, as Congress has been openly asking if the NSA has been spying on them…which kind of makes me chuckle. With the story’s re-emergence in the news, we thought it was a good opportunity to gauge Americans’ sentiments about the NSA’s spying program, so in a recent VeraQuest survey we polled 722 U.S. adults who were generally aware of the “NSA spying on Americans” news story.
The majority of Americans (62%) feel that it’s not right for the NSA to spy on American citizens without legal cause, and therefore their spying should be stopped. The remaining 38%, on the other hand, believe that we live in a dangerous world and therefore need to do whatever is necessary (even if that means spying on our own citizens) to guard against threats from people who mean us harm.
Interestingly, it is young adults (18-29 year olds) who feel most fervently that the spying is not right and should be stopped – a full 81% of this age group feel this way. Although the majority of older adults agree that the spying should be stopped, it is not at the overwhelming levels seen among 18-29 year olds (60% of 30-39 year olds, 62% of 40-49 year olds, 57% of 50-64 year olds, and 58% of 65+ year olds feel it’s not right to spy on American citizens). Perhaps older adults have seen how the world has changed a bit more than younger adults, and while the majority of them do feel that spying on American citizens should be stopped, there’s still a large proportion who feel they’ve lived through events that make them think that as a country we need to take more of a “whatever it takes” tact to guard our national security.
We also asked Americans how they would feel if the NSA was monitoring Internet activity and TV viewership, as well as actually listening-in on phone calls. Almost one-quarter (23%) would be generally accepting of this level of monitoring (feeling that people should have nothing to hide or assuming the NSA must have good reason to do this)…while about half (53%) are generally against it (feeling this level of monitoring is simply too much or that they should require a warrant). The remaining one-quarter (25%) are unsure how they feel and would want more information. And again, it is the 18-29 year olds who are much more against these types of practices (70%).
I can certainly see why there is so much debate over the NSA’s spying program and maintaining the delicate balance between national security and personal privacy. The courts are even at-odds over the constitutionality of it all. There are some potentially serious consequences of erring too far on one side or the other, so it will be interesting to see how this plays out. Makes me wonder sometimes if ignorance would’ve been bliss in this situation.
Do you feel Edward Snowden is a hero or a traitor for exposing the NSA’s domestic spying program? How much of your personal privacy are you willing to give up for the safety and security of our country?