June 7th, 2013
12:11 PM ET
1 year ago

Poll: Do you care if they're snooping?

Washington (CNN) – Does the U.S. government know more about the phone calls and emails its citizens make each day than Americans might have ever imagined?

That's what a lot of people are most likely asking Friday, following reports of secret U.S. government internet and telephone monitoring programs.

The latest headlines focus on the existence of a National Security Agency program using data from some of the world's biggest online services companies - including Microsoft, Apple, Google, Yahoo and Facebook - to monitor the online activities of non-U.S. residents overseas. This followed reports earlier this week that the NSA had access to the telephone records of millions of Americans. The agency is defending itself, saying the programs are part of the strategy to protect the U.S. from terrorism.

With the ensuing media coverage, the age old debate of security versus privacy is back on the front-burner. And one of the most recent national polls on the topic comes from CNN/Time/ORC International, which questioned Americans at the end of April, about two weeks after the Boston Marathon bombings.

Although worries about terrorism edged up following the bombings, the survey indicated only four in ten Americans said they were willing to give up some of their civil liberties to fight terrorism, with 49% disagreeing.

While there was little partisan divide on this question, there was a generational gap. Only 34% of those under age 50 said they were willing to give up their privacy for security, but that number jumped to 50% among those age 50 and older.

"Older Americans are more worried about terrorism in general, so it's understandable that they would be more willing to take steps to prevent acts of terrorism," says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.

The survey also suggested that public attitudes toward terrorism and civil liberties have changed dramatically since 1995, when the deadly bombing of a federal office building in Oklahoma City first ushered in a new era of anti-terrorism measures that impacted the lives of ordinary Americans. Back in 1995, 57% of the public said that they were willing to give up some civil liberties if that were necessary to curb terrorism. Now, that figure is down to 40%, and it appears that the biggest change is in attitudes toward cell phones and email.

"After the September 11 terrorist attacks, 54% of Americans favored expanded government monitoring of cell phones and email. Now, the message is 'hands off,' " adds Holland. "Only 38% said they favor expanding government monitoring of those forms of communication."

Another finding from the survey: Six in ten said that they were more worried about the government restricting civil liberties than they were that the government would fail to enact new anti-terrorist policies.

American's attitudes on this subject have been far from stable.

"Opinion on the government monitoring of cell phones, for example, has risen and fallen since the 9/11 attacks, probably in reaction to world events. By 2005, that figure was down to 37%, roughly where it is today. But in 2006, support rose to 52%, nearly the same level as in 2001," adds Holland.

The poll was conducted for CNN and Time magazine by ORC International, with 606 adults nationwide questioned by telephone on Tuesday April 30. The survey's sampling error is plus or minus four percentage points.


Filed under: NSA • Polls
soundoff (52 Responses)
  1. just sayin

    PRESIDENT OBAMA: Unfortunately, you've grown up hearing voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that's at the root of all our problems. Some of these same voices also do their best to gum up the works. They'll warn that tyranny always lurking just around the corner. You should reject these voices. Because what they suggest is that our brave, and creative, and unique experiment in self-rule is somehow just a sham with which we can't be trusted.
    ----

    our dear leader says move on, nothing to see here. you can trust him and big government. move along now or those surveliance cameras will pick up your lack of movement and you will be put on the suspected obama non-supporter list for further scrutiny by the irs.

    June 7, 2013 12:17 pm at 12:17 pm |
  2. Stephen

    Considering that you're more likely to be killed by police than a terror attack, allowing the current monopoly of force to collect data that can later be used for black mail/extortion, in no way makes me safer. With all of this data they have been collecting, the Boston bombing was done by people our "great protector" government sent checks to.

    June 7, 2013 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  3. Anonymous

    Do I care if "they" are snooping? Give me some truth that is based on real facts and I'll decide from there.
    To date, all we are being given in these "scandals" is media induced sensationalism - with biased polling data as back up.

    June 7, 2013 12:23 pm at 12:23 pm |
  4. Jackson

    No. If they find me that intriguing, they need help. Big help.

    June 7, 2013 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  5. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    You call it "snooping", I call it national security.

    June 7, 2013 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  6. RJ

    In watching Obama's speech on the matter, it appears more to me that he's trying to convince himself to say the words defending the snooping scandal. As if the people have any reason to trust Obama's administration to use the data wisely. He says that the program has extreme oversight. Is that the same level of oversight that the IRS had? Is the oversight, really "partisan oversight" to be used for political gains? Obama has lost trust in the people. There is no reason to trust what he says anymore. He's blown those bridges long ago.

    June 7, 2013 12:29 pm at 12:29 pm |
  7. Pam from Iowa

    This whole thing is a ploy by the GOP to further their own agenda.
    Speaker of the House Boehner voted to authorize this secret spying on Americans when GW Bush was President, and has voted to keep it in place ever since.
    I thought he looked quite comical yesterday on the news when he said that Obama needs to explain why this is used as a tool to fight terrorism.

    June 7, 2013 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  8. Silence DoGood

    @anonymous "Give me some truth that is based on real facts and I'll decide from there."

    I think you can believe it if your own president is explaining why it was OK that the government is doing all this.
    Notice he is not even attempting to deny it.
    If you seriously think no one is snooping on you, in the interest of not tarnishing an image of a fantasy president, it is time to get over it.

    "meet the new boss, same as the old boss"

    June 7, 2013 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  9. anonymous

    the law if used corectly, and as it was intended to be used, is fine. the problem lies in the corrupt and criminal people within the obama administration and their disregard for laws and their intent. it appears their strategy is to abuse the laws to the maximum until every calls for their removal. the solution is to get rid of the leftist obama adminstration and treasonous criminals like eric holder.

    June 7, 2013 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  10. RJ

    Dominican mama 4 Obama

    You call it "snooping", I call it national security.
    --

    The snooping is a radical extreme stretch of anything that is in the Patriot Act. Your statement is a pathetic attempt to support Obama. I wonder if your excuses for the other recent scandals are also the same pathetic nonsense?

    June 7, 2013 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  11. NEVER to VOTE REPUBLICAN again

    Nothing to hide. The world has changed since 9-11. Rather be safe. No scandal here RJ. Look to your own for real sandals.

    June 7, 2013 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  12. California Gary

    It's amazing to me how all of those "Patriot Act" Republicans who willingly gave up any semblance of privacy in the name of national security, are now "horrified" at the lack of privacy. Under Bush, it was a good thing. Under Obama, it has now become an evil thing. And now we learn that those congressmen raising such a fuss about it were briefed on it all along and many supported it........until now. What a bunch of phonies.......

    June 7, 2013 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  13. Malory Archer

    I've cared for at least the last 12 years (anyone else here remember ECHELON?), but my concerns fell on deaf ears while I was called anti-American, unpatriotic, accused of being against the troops (despite the fact that my husband was a military man for the first 6 of those 12 years), and advised that if I should only worry if I have something to hide, or go live in Somaila if I don't like it. Thank God for President Obama – his election managed to snap his detractors out of their collective stupor and open their eyes to what a disaster the previous administration created. Maybe now they'll get behind us Dems & liberals call for an end to the Patriot Act and Department of Homeland Security.

    June 7, 2013 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  14. Smitty

    I don't care if it saves lives. Even though I don't really like it. I have to accept that ..this is the way the world is turning and the old days of being safe at home are GONE. We need to stop the bad crazy nutz! They would love nothing better then to keep the GOV of there tails! So stop playing politics with this. It started under G.W. Bush and now it continues. SO if your just a OBAMA hater you will blame him, but truth is. It's a Cheany/Bush program.

    June 7, 2013 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  15. Guy

    Ummm......I tell you what, tell the Feds to back off on the snooping programs and I will keep my Glock 19 and take my chances with the terrorists.

    June 7, 2013 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  16. Anonymous

    "If you seriously think no one is snooping on you, in the interest of not tarnishing an image of a fantasy president, it is time to get over it."

    I suppose if I were paranoid it would be a problem to me, but I have to admit I am not by nature a paranoid person. I'm not quite sure what it is you are asking me to "get over". I have a distaste for sensationalism. I've given more infomation on a car loan application, which by the way is public information, than the United States government is EVER going to get from my e-mails, my phone listings, or my phone conversations. I am your typical everyday citizen going about my everyday life in much the same manner hundreds of millions of other day citizens are going about their daily business. I seriously doubt I am on a NSA list.

    June 7, 2013 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  17. anonymous

    California Gary
    It's amazing to me how all of those "Patriot Act" Republicans who willingly gave up any semblance of privacy in the name of national security, are now "horrified" at the lack of privacy. Under Bush, it was a good thing. Under Obama, it has now become an evil thing. And now we learn that those congressmen raising such a fuss about it were briefed on it all along and many supported it........until now. What a bunch of phonies.......
    -----

    The ability of the government to acquire information in a targeted manner is what the law was for. The Obama adminstrations decision to abuse the law, as they have so many other laws, and use it to target the entire US population is NOT what the law was written for.

    Yet again, the Obama administration and their supporters attempt to hide behind others to conceal their criminal use of our laws.

    June 7, 2013 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  18. Tom

    @California Gary,
    I voted for Ron Paul so surely you can understand my feelings towards the Patriot Act. However, I feel like you are either being disingenuous or just intellectually dishonest.
    Surely you understand that under Bush they were monitoring calls from domestic to a foreigner. This is just domestic and that, my friend, is an enormous difference. Please tell me that you recognize that you were wrong in your assertion.
    By the way, how do you feel about this? I guess I could totally flip your statement and say that under Bush you were "horrified" but now under Obama you support it.
    So which it, big guy?

    June 7, 2013 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  19. California Gary

    Good comment on Morning Joe this morning........"What if the headline had been Obama disbands program that could have prevented a nuclear terrorist attack on Miami?"........If Obama wasn't aggressive in his national defense and anti-terrorism policies........these same Republicans raising a fuss now would be saying he was selling us out and making us vulnerable to attack. With Obama, it's damned if he does, and damned if he doesn't. He can't win with these morons and I think his biggest mistake as POTUS was to ever waste time trying to work with them at all.

    June 7, 2013 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  20. Smitty

    I live and work in S. Florida the grassroots home of the TEA PARTY movement. They were all screamin about the phone lines being checked and all the snooping! I said to them. Would you be happy if they didn't check anyone or anything??..then when people died. You would say..YOU HAD A CHANCE TO TRACK THOSE BAD GUYS DOWN! WHY DIDN't YOU??. And the answer I got was stunning. They said. " That is the price of freedom,..if we want to be left along and keep government out of our lives then if people die...that is the price we must pay.! " All I can say is it speaks for it's self. I then asked them. This shows just how ignorant and selfish and stupid they can be. No wonder they are constantly being double checked and looked at! lol Maybe they are the terrorist?

    June 7, 2013 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
  21. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    RJ

    Dominican mama 4 Obama

    You call it "snooping", I call it national security.
    -

    The snooping is a radical extreme stretch of anything that is in the Patriot Act
    -------------------------------------------------
    Your categorizing the LAWFUL application of elements included in the Patriot Act as "radical and extreme" falls on deaf ears. Just like the whole Benghazi, Rice, AP, IRS brouhaha that you and yours are pathetically caught up in and trying to depict as scandals that fall at this administration's feet.
    NOBODY is buying what you've been selling for the past 5 years. Nobody. You've got NO credibility left.
    I have nothing to hide, and if application of the Patriot Act that you had no problem with under Bush is continuing to keep us safe then I say carry on.

    June 7, 2013 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  22. Tom

    @Domincan,
    Shame on you. You are being so partisan it's sad. I know you had a problem with this under Bush with the Patriot Act. You should be scared if a Republican president came next....

    June 7, 2013 01:01 pm at 1:01 pm |
  23. Rudy NYC

    California Gary

    It's amazing to me how all of those "Patriot Act" Republicans who willingly gave up any semblance of privacy in the name of national security, are now "horrified" at the lack of privacy. Under Bush, it was a good thing. Under Obama, it has now become an evil thing. And now we learn that those congressmen raising such a fuss about it were briefed on it all along and many supported it........until now. What a bunch of phonies.......
    ---------------–
    Hypocrites to complain about any of it. None of this is new news. But, the media is a little perturbed with the Obama administration over the Associated Press thing. So, the media has been sticking up for one of their own and are simply counter punching. Don't expect it to change anytime soon. This may go on for the rest of his second term.

    June 7, 2013 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
  24. Fair is Fair

    I take far more risk driving to work than exists the risk of being harmed by a terrorist. Hell no I wouldn't trade one iota of my civil liberties for perceived but unrealized "security" these measures supposedly provide.

    June 7, 2013 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  25. Sniffit

    ""After the September 11 terrorist attacks, 54% of Americans favored expanded government monitoring of cell phones and email. Now, the message is 'hands off,' " adds Holland. "Only 38% said they favor expanding government monitoring of those forms of communication.""

    And that is why the GOP/Teatrolls are trying to pretend the NSA monitoring is all Obama's fault, not something they all pushed very hard for, AUTHORED and then defended under Dubya when the GOP controlled congress. They see a statistical opportunity that says "if you can misinform and confuse everyone into thinking it was Obama's doing, then the majority of people will be mad at him for it."

    June 7, 2013 01:16 pm at 1:16 pm |
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