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Americans more opposed to gov’t spying now than a decade ago: Poll

Personnel from both the NSA and U.S. Cyber Command work closely in the ICC to achieve national security objectives. (NSA/Released)
September 07, 2021

Americans are more opposed to intrusive government surveillance used for national security now than they were within the first ten years following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, a new poll released Tuesday by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research shows.

Support for the use of surveillance tools to monitor conversations outside the United States has dropped over the last ten years, despite the threat of international violence gaining momentum in the wake of President Joe Biden’s disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan that left 13 U.S. troops dead, 18 others injured and hundreds of Americans stranded behind enemy lines.

According to the poll, which was conducted between Aug. 12-16, 46 percent of Americans oppose the U.S. government reading emails without a warrant in response to a threat, which is currently legally permitted to collect foreign intelligence, whereas 27 percent are in favor of the intrusive policy.  

In a similar poll conducted 10 years ago, more Americans supported the practice, with 47 percent in favor compared to 30 percent opposed.

Around two-thirds of Americans oppose warrantless monitoring of telephone calls, emails, and text messages within the United States, and nearly half oppose government monitoring internet searches without a warrant.

Six in 10 Americans support having surveillance cameras installed in public spaces to watch out for suspicious activity. Fifteen percent support racial and ethnic profiling at airports, whereas 7 in 10 black and Asian Americans opposing racial profiling at airports, compared to 6 in 10 white Americans.

Around 6 in 10 Americans agree that the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars were not worth fighting. As for security threats at home, about two-thirds of Americans believe extremist groups inside the U.S. pose a threat.

Democrats and Republicans are more closely aligned on their fears regarding foreign extremism, but 75 percent of Democrats are more likely to be fearful of a domestic extremism threat, compared to just 57 percent of Republicans.

Gary Kieffer, a registered Democrat and retired New Yorker, said he is anxious about government overreach.

“At what point does this work against the population in general rather than try to weed out potential saboteurs or whatever?” asked Kieffer. “At what point is it going to be a danger to the public rather saving them or keeping them more secure?”

“I feel like you might need it to an extent,” he continued, adding, “Who’s going to decide just how far you go to keep the country safe?”

Democrat Eric McWilliams, 59, contrasted Kieffer’s position, asserting that government surveillance is critical to keeping Americans safe.

“I wasn’t for the torture stuff, which is why they did it outside the country. I wasn’t for that,” McWilliams said. “But as far as the surveillance is concerned, you gotta watch them — or else we’re gonna die.”

The poll also found that more Americans consider domestic extremism a greater threat than foreign extremism, and more Americans don’t believe the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were worth it.