June 7th, 2013
12:11 PM ET
5 years 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. rs

    What are they getting? Phone numbers and durations; Internet searches; e-mail addresses. Look, I'd prefer that information not be tracked. However, given the world we live in, and given that the massive communication corporations already collect this data (and use it to their own ends), I guess I don't see the difference much.

    This stuff has been going on for years, and was really refined by the USA PATRIOT Act. It is utterly hypocritical for the Right to whine (oh, how they whine)- this is the world they made, if they don't like it, they should free to begin the process in the House to end the USA PATRIOT Act.

    June 7, 2013 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
  2. Liberal Sense (Or lack thereof)

    Democrats thought the opposite when Bush did it and now they're for it?

    HYPOCITES the lot of them.

    Not to mention Obama's taken it MUCH further.

    June 7, 2013 01:19 pm at 1:19 pm |
  3. Wake up People!

    Doesn't bother me now and didn't bother me when the Crawford village idiot initiated it. I have nothing to hide. I'm a hard working, tax paying citizen that wants to be safe.

    June 7, 2013 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  4. Silence DoGood

    @Pam Iowa "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."

    So the big Change we all voted for amounts to Obama doing the same as Boehner and Bush in many cases involving terror and war.
    A very sad argument.

    June 7, 2013 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  5. GOP ,witch hunters or witch doctors

    hypocritical repubes, what was once golden for Dubya is now black for Obama. S.O.S.

    June 7, 2013 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  6. conrad

    I have nothing to hide, I don't care if they look at my records. However, this all assumes that the government can be trusted. For now, I think it probably can, but I can imagine a scenario where this kind of snooping could take a totally unacceptable turn. Think McCarthyism etc...

    June 7, 2013 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  7. rob

    @California Gary
    Most Republicans are backing the president on this issue, its the left that has the biggest problem with it as usual. The issue many have now is after the IRS scandal and the DOJ snooping in journalists etc. etc. can we trust this administration with this much power? I for one do not.

    June 7, 2013 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  8. Jules

    Everybody knows your business already and have for many, many years. Did nobody actually read the Patriot Act. Can't believe the GOP who so adamantly supported it didn't know that the government can do whatever it wants to stop terrorist attacks.

    June 7, 2013 01:40 pm at 1:40 pm |
  9. Joi Gibson

    I think I'd rather the gubermint be doing this than some hacker who then steals my identify. This faux outrage is disingenous – this has been going on since before President Obama. John Boehner and the rest of Congress authorized it and now they are incredulous. Cut me some slack.

    June 7, 2013 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  10. Len

    GOP concerned about scandals, none proven, elected to create jobs, none created by GOP, only want to cut the budget.... ask Europe how austerity helped them...Not

    June 7, 2013 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  11. Malory Archer


    Ummm......nobody's trying to take your Glock 19 away from you so please give that strawman a rest.

    June 7, 2013 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  12. Malory Archer


    @California Gary,

    Surely you understand that under Bush they were monitoring calls from domestic to a foreigner.


    They lied and abused their authority on so many levels – why would ANYONE take their word on this?

    June 7, 2013 01:59 pm at 1:59 pm |
  13. Carlos

    The 4th Amendment of the Bill of Rights states:

    The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.[1]

    Ben Franklin said " They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety. "

    For those posters who are saying that they are ok with these acts,YOU, AND THOSE WHO THINK LIKE YOU are the problem with this country!! You are ALL liberal minded, socialist leaning individuals who would rather live under the PERCEIVED idea that the government is watching out for you, rather than accept the TRUTH, and that is the government IS taking your rights and liberties away!! PLEASE WAKE UP AND REALIZE THIS TRUTH!!! It has slowly been happening in places like California, New Jersey, New York, and now here it is on a national scale.

    For those who are posting that it is ok for the government to

    June 7, 2013 01:59 pm at 1:59 pm |
  14. Liberal Sense (Or lack thereof)

    Proof to dems means ONLY bad things about everyone else is true and doesn't include them.

    June 7, 2013 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
  15. richard from rancho cordova

    as a father of five i would love to make my children give up some private talks, texts, phone calls, heck just every move they make. ( i love them ) but we should not sacrifice our private anything just to hope we can use the info to stop horrors of the world

    June 7, 2013 02:09 pm at 2:09 pm |
  16. timverba

    During the 1980s, it was common belief among my circle of friends that the government had tools that could tune into a phone conversation when a provocative word like bomb or assassination was used. Therefore, most people moderated their conversations in private and public. I believe the guiding maxim is: "Loose lips sink ships." It is amusing to me that the biggest critics against government intrusion into their privacy are the ones who spend endless hours posting the most personal and provocative information on their Facebook and Twitter accounts. Perhaps people will show a little more moderation in the way they interact with each other now. I am all for freedom of speech, but most people just ramble on and on and on.

    June 7, 2013 02:10 pm at 2:10 pm |
  17. it must be said

    They can listen to my calls and survey my e-mails any time they want. I have nothing to hide as is the case with most Americans.

    Thank you for so easily giving up your right to any privacy. Next month the government will want easy and warrantless acces to all of your financial records to ensure you are not involved in any criminal activity. Next year the government will want easy and warrantless access to all of your medical records to make sure you are not getting too fat and causing them added costs. In 5 years, their plan to simply place an RFID chip in your neck will also require your cooperation as they have automated their subject tracking system.

    Yes, thank you America for making all of this so easy. Your government promises they would never ever abuse any of this information or use it against you. And since you have nothing to hide, you have no need to worry about any of the above.

    What fools so many of you are.

    June 7, 2013 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
  18. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    I know you had a problem with this under Bush with the Patriot Act.
    Tom please stop showing all of us ad nauseum how little you know about me or anything else.

    June 7, 2013 02:20 pm at 2:20 pm |
  19. SwingState

    Some of you are so grossly partisan that you blame all this on the pres. The Republican leader for the senate intelligence committee said he was aware of this. And Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said he supports it. This has been going on for 7 years. How long has this president been the president? So you can thank the previous administration.

    June 7, 2013 02:21 pm at 2:21 pm |
  20. it must be said

    The problem isn't the law! The problem is the corrupt and criminal leftists in control of the federal government that are abusing and misusing the law. The way to fix the problem is to get rid of the corrupt and criminal leftists in the federal government starting with eric holder.

    June 7, 2013 02:27 pm at 2:27 pm |
  21. Fair is Fair

    GOP ,witch hunters or witch doctors

    hypocritical repubes, what was once golden for Dubya is now black for Obama. S.O.S
    hypocritical liberals... what was once taboo for Bush is now cheered for under Obams.


    June 7, 2013 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  22. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    You should be scared if a Republican president came next....
    You're damn skippy I'd be scared if a Republican president came next. Most of us would be but not for the reasons that you're intimatinng. No.
    Rational Americans would be scared of anything that currently calls itself a Republican going into the Oval Office because WE DON'T TRUST REPUBLICANS TO DO THE RIGHT THING BY AMERICA AND AMERICANS.
    We showed you that in no uncertain terms in 2012.
    You are pollutted, power-hungry, greed-driven, war-mongering, bigotted, cold-hearted, lying fountains of divisiveness and misinformation posing as civil servants.
    You need to be quarantined and contained.
    No White House for you for a loooooooong time.


    June 7, 2013 02:35 pm at 2:35 pm |
  23. Thomas

    If your not doing anythiong wrong , why would you care ?

    June 7, 2013 02:43 pm at 2:43 pm |
  24. Tom

    You had a post earlier that said that the TEA Party had no credibility because they didn't say a word when the Patriot Act was passed. Well, you're right; they didn't complain. That's because they didn't EXIST when it was passed. Perhaps, with your entire assumptions about the TEA Party, you would be man enough to admit you are wrong about this. But I'm sure you will rationalize it away and blame the TEA Party.

    I am glad that I voted for Ron Paul and can be intellectually honest on this issue. I find it classic to see all of the dems here supporting this when 90% were horrified when it passed. Just like a lot of reps are doing the same right now; complaining about our privacy being violated.

    I can't wait to hear you say how "I've always been against the Patriot Act" which I believe to be true. Where you become the typical party guy is how you call out the reps for being inconsistent while this board is littered with hypocrisy yet you don't call them out.

    THAT, dude, is intellectual dishonesty.

    So, would you at least admit that you are incorrect about the TEA Party not complaining when Bush was in office about passing the Patriot Act?

    June 7, 2013 02:45 pm at 2:45 pm |
  25. Guest

    Liberal losers!

    June 7, 2013 02:46 pm at 2:46 pm |
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