A new study from the Pew Research Center has confirmed what most of us already knew – the vast majority of Americans couldn’t care less about the NSA leaks scandal, which according to them, barely even registers as a scandal in the first place.
Pew’s poll, which was sponsored by the Washington Post, found that 56% of the 1,0004 adults surveyed felt that the NSA’s dragnet of American citizen’s phone metadata was “acceptable”, given the ultimate purpose of the operation. In contrast, just 41% said that the invasion of privacy was “unacceptable”, with just 2% sitting on the fence. We should note that this question specifically referred to the NSA’s phone tapping operation, rather than the all pervasive PRISM program that tracks online activity.
Even so, Americans’ lackadaisical attitude towards online privacy also stood out, albeit not quite so much, with 45% of those questioned agreeing with the statement that the government should be allowed to “monitor everyone’s email to prevent possible terrorism”. Funnily enough, exactly 45% of respondents said the same thing in response to a similar question eleven years ago, less than 12 months after the 9/11 attacks. However, 52% replied that universal email monitoring was unacceptable, compared to just 47% back in 2002.
One item of note to come from the survey is that young people in particular, are a lot less likely to condone government spying as a means of preventing terrorist attacks. Almost half, 45%, of those aged between 18 and 29 agreed that it’s more important to maintain people’s privacy, even if it means the government’s ability to investigate terrorism and other threats is hindered. For sure, it’s not a majority, but the percentage of people holding this view is much higher than it is with other groups.
A second point of interest as far as millenials go – and something that’s in contrast to their apparent opposition to being spied upon – is that the vast majority of 18 to 29-year olds aren’t even following the story. Just 12% of people in this age group said that they were tracking the news about the NSA, with older Americans being far more tuned in than their younger counterparts.
Okay, so the news that most Americans don’t seem too bothered about the NSA’s spying isn’t really ‘news’ to anyone. It merely confirms my own suspicions from yesterday – the revelations were not a surprise, but rather just confirmation of what most people suspected all along. Even so, just because people are comfortable with this kind of surveillance doesn’t make it right or acceptable. All that Pew’s survey proves is that people have been dulled into no longer caring about what’s really important. And as I pointed out yesterday, the issue goes beyond our own personal privacy – for example, the implications for US tech industry could be far greater than anyone has anticipated now that foreigners have lost faith with American firms.