Pew: 60% OK With Government Surveillance of American 'Leaders'

Majority say Snowden leaks made them less confident surveillance is in public interest
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More than half of Americans (57%) oppose government monitoring of their phone and computer communications, but 60% say they are OK with government monitoring of American "leaders."

That is according to the second in a series of studies looking at privacy in the wake of the revelations about government surveillance leaked by NSA contractor Edward Snowden (the first is reported here).

It was presented Monday at the South by Southwest conference. The survey was conducted Nov. 26, 2014-Jan. 3, 2015 among 475 adults 18-plus. The sampling error rate is plus or minus 5.6 percentage points.

A majority of respondents—61% of the 87% who had heard about them—said the Snowden revelations had made them less confident that such surveillance was in the public interest, while 37% said it had made them more confident they were.

While that 60% said it was OK to track communications of American "leaders" (it did not specify what type of leader in the question), 49% said they thought it was OK to monitor the communications of people who "had friends and followers on social media who used hateful language about American leaders."

Not surprisingly, 82% of respondents said it is acceptable to monitor the communications of suspected terrorists.

That "losing confidence" measure was divided along political lines, with 70% of Democrats saying they were less confident, though a majority of Republicans agreed (55%).

Asked about concerns over monitoring of their own communications, the majority did not seem particularly worried. Only 39% described themselves as very concerned or somewhat concerned about government monitoring of their search engine activity; 38% said the same about their email messages, 37% about their cell phone calls, 31% about social media sites and only 29% about mobile apps.

The study comes as the House and Senate take up cybersecurity and data privacy bills and the Obama Administration, which took steps to rein in bulk collection of data following the Snowden revelations, is seeking input on privacy regimes for drones, facial recognition apps, and other data collection and potentially sharing technologies.

It also comes just days after the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has granted the U.S. government authority to continue collecting bulk metadata from consumers' phone records for selective inspection by the National Security Agency.

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