Poll: Majority say phone tracking is 'acceptable'
June 10th, 2013
05:53 PM ET
5 years ago

Poll: Majority say phone tracking is 'acceptable'

(CNN) - As the government faces some backlash over its surveillance programs–details of which were leaked last week–a new poll shows Americans have changed little in their views of federal monitoring and more than half indicate they're fine with one of the programs.

Fifty-six percent consider the government's tracking of phone records an "acceptable way" to investigate terrorism, according to the new national survey released Monday by the Pew Research Center and The Washington Post.

The public is less supportive, however, of the government's ability to monitor email, according to the poll.

The survey was conducted Thursday through Sunday, as information about the federal surveillance programs was being published by The Guardian and The Washington Post.

The story that first broke Thursday revealed the government had obtained a court order demanding that Verizon Business Network Services turn over details of phone calls from April to July. Intelligence officials later confirmed the program, which analysts say likely covers all U.S. carriers.

Another National Security Agency program, PRISM, allows analysts to extract the details of people's online activities - including "audio and video chats, photographs, e-mails, documents" and other materials - from computers at Microsoft, Google, Apple and other Internet firms.

Asked in the survey if the government should be able to monitor emails to prevent possible terrorism, 45% say "yes," while 52% say "no." Those numbers are relatively unchanged from a similar questioned asked in July 2002, less than a year after the September 11 terrorist attacks in the U.S.

The poll finds "no indications" that last week's reports "have altered fundamental public views about the tradeoff between investigating possible terrorism and protecting personal privacy," according to Pew.

Sixty-two percent of Americans say they favor investigating terrorist threats over not intruding privacy, while 34% say the opposite. Those numbers have also changed little from Pew polls taken in November 2010 and January 2006.

Younger Americans are more supportive of privacy–even if that limits the government's ability to investigate threats–than older Americans in general, but when asked specific questions about phone records and Internet monitoring, there is little difference between the age groups, according to the survey.

But younger people aren't following the story as closely as older Americans. Only 12% of 18-29-year-olds are keeping up with the phone records story, while 56% are not paying attention to it at all.

Pew interviewed 1,004 adults by telephone between June 6 and June 9. The poll has a sampling error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.

- CNN's Ashley Killough and Paul Steinhauser contributed to this report.

Filed under: NSA • Polls
soundoff (157 Responses)
  1. funny

    Just like the fake numbers on the gun background check poll? I love how you people make up fake numbers so you can get your readers to think what you want. In Ohio I don't know a single person who thinks its ok for extended background checks or the government spying. I guess you will find out soon enough when your beloved rejects het voted out and ran Paul is president in 3 years.

    June 11, 2013 02:03 am at 2:03 am |
  2. thinker

    Yeah like the poll that said 90% of Amricans were for gun control when the oll only spoke to 1000 democrats. ROTFLMAO

    June 11, 2013 02:21 am at 2:21 am |
  3. charlies curry

    please my friends before you decide on this issue . Please ,please think of the ones who's blood was shed so we could have these basic rights for we are willing to give up for peace if mind .beware once freedoms are lost they don't just come back.

    June 11, 2013 02:27 am at 2:27 am |
  4. J.V.Hodgson

    Will y'all go back to the votes in 2001 and 2006 in both houses of congress there were huge majorities in favor well over 2/3rds in both cases. Especially the Senate.
    All these issues of today were squabbled over back in 2001 and have been monitored by FISA and the appropriate House and congressional over sight committees since.
    I don't care whether Snowden brings about change or not ( actually he alone cannot ) he has committed the crime of espionage and breach of employment contract & should be treated accordingly if it can be proved.
    It is up to the legislative bodies that wrote this law to change it if appropriate. Obama has said he will listen to ideas.

    June 11, 2013 02:28 am at 2:28 am |
  5. Chris

    There is a difference between "tracking" phone records and the mass screening of Americans without probable cause.

    CNN misleading the general public, yet again...

    June 11, 2013 02:36 am at 2:36 am |
  6. Ed

    Leave it up to CNN to re-educate us and to rewrite history (and the present) to suit their purposes. Because CNN makes a statement, it is not necessarily based in truth or reality. I'm surprised you have not rewritten the Bible, CNN.

    June 11, 2013 02:42 am at 2:42 am |
  7. Jerry

    Where are these polls posted, I would like to be able to voice my opinion before you last claim to most Americans feel this is ok.

    June 11, 2013 02:59 am at 2:59 am |
  8. Scott

    This poll is meaningless. The 4th Amendment isn't up for majority vote. It isn't up to some poll to decide which violations of it are okay and which are not.

    June 11, 2013 04:58 am at 4:58 am |
  9. penguin

    The issue is not whether the public supports the NSA data mining, but whether it is Constitutional. George Orwell's "1984" should be required reading in every high school.
    Supporters of the monitoring say Snowdens revelation of the program caused grave danger but fail to say just what the danger is. They also say the program has stopped terrorist attacks, but don't tell who (or how) has been stopped. It certainly didn't stop the Boston attack

    June 11, 2013 05:21 am at 5:21 am |
  10. Robert Hall

    Did CNN actually poll people who LIVE IN the United States? I don't think so, unless they found people who live under a rock somewhere.

    June 11, 2013 05:41 am at 5:41 am |
  11. Marie MD

    I repeat – twitter, you tube, facebook. Most of these people are already telling everyone what they do all day long. I have gotten text messages from a friend who goes to dinner and she sends out what she is eating!!!
    We have become a world of instant messaging about every useless thing we do and the government trying to protect us is bad.
    Get real and a life everyone! snowden needs to be brought back and put in jail for the rest of his life. He is a traitor and being from Anne Arundel county in MD doesn't much about him either (Annapolis or not).

    June 11, 2013 06:43 am at 6:43 am |
  12. uconj

    cnn how can you do a survay of 1004 people n say you have an accurate percentage, when in fact there is 8.2 MILLION in nyc alone. i think you hand pick callers and you are controled by the gov. thats why snowden didnt send you doodly squat. cnn you lie just like our gov and you try to justifie it with your silly n incomplete polls. stop being puppet for gov n start reporting the truth

    June 11, 2013 07:06 am at 7:06 am |
  13. Will

    Lambs being led to slaughter. This isn't about terrorism this is about control. Wake up people.

    June 11, 2013 07:14 am at 7:14 am |
  14. eleanor

    We live in dangerous times. Security is important. Privacy is important. It is legitimate to have a public discussion about where the lines should be drawn. How much is it costing us in money and personal freedom for the random fishing expeditions to willy nilly invade people's privacy this way? Is this getting to the point of paranoia? Are our immigration policies getting equal scrutiny? Some members of some ethnic groups we have let in seem to be causing us more problems than others. People who hate us seem to be able to come here and do us harm. Is that also a focus? How can violent extremist behavior be successfully identified on time without destroying important aspects of democracy.

    June 11, 2013 07:25 am at 7:25 am |
  15. Misty

    The only acceptable way that tapping someones phone line is if they have legitimate reasons to suspect a person and they go before a judge to get a warrant to further investigate by tapping their phone. Only way it isn't taking away our constitutional rights!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    June 11, 2013 07:28 am at 7:28 am |
  16. Anon

    Poll 1,004 adults out of 330 million? Wow. Where is your statistians?

    June 11, 2013 07:30 am at 7:30 am |
  17. Sharn Cedar

    The wording of the question is misleading. The question contains an unproven hypothetical, that the phone records are used to "fight terrorism". Possibly. But we saw with the IRS scandal that once given this data and these powers in secret, it is inevitable that this administration or a future administration will eventually use these records for other purposes. Such as looking up their political opponents phone records. There is nothing in place to prevent that, it's all done in secret without scrutiny. How many Americans would be for those kinds of uses of these phone records?

    June 11, 2013 07:30 am at 7:30 am |
  18. Patriot

    All they see in my email is spam trying to get me to buy stuff and every time someone on facebook posts what they ate for dinner. Have at it.

    June 11, 2013 08:15 am at 8:15 am |
  19. paul

    they are getting the polls from everyone who logs onto the story.not hard to figure out.lol

    June 11, 2013 08:21 am at 8:21 am |
  20. Name

    Gee, June 12 sure seems to be timing for a report don't you think? I guess it's nice to know the NSA is taking this seriously but sad that they think the public is stupid.

    June 11, 2013 08:24 am at 8:24 am |
  21. notarichboy

    Yes because all terrorist go down to their local cell phone store, get a credit check and sign a two year contract for the phones that they use to plan attacks, using a untraceable pay as you go phone would be stupid.

    June 11, 2013 08:39 am at 8:39 am |
  22. matt

    Even though a "majority" percentage consider it "acceptable", it does not make the action morally right.

    June 11, 2013 08:55 am at 8:55 am |
  23. ST

    I really like this poll very much. It shows how people are really thinking. Those who are a bit out of the line, please try to think this way: you are driving and you are stopped anywhere with the police. The check everything they want to know about, while you haven't done anything wrong. Once everything is cleared out they let you go. Why don't you resist and say it is my freedom to drive and I have not done anything wrong and why do you check me? If you will understand this example, I hope you will understand how the government tracking on phones is done and how essential it is.

    June 11, 2013 09:13 am at 9:13 am |
  24. Fair is Fair

    Lotta libs in here applauding Obama for carrying on Bush policies. Who'd have thunk?

    June 11, 2013 09:23 am at 9:23 am |
  25. ST

    @ Fair is Fair
    Pres.Bush policies was done to what people? Answer: American People
    Pres. Obama is carrying Pres. Bush policies to what people? Answer: The same people Pres. Bush did.
    Tell me where is the difference here?

    June 11, 2013 09:37 am at 9:37 am |
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