Pew: 60% OK With Government Surveillance of American 'Leaders'

More than half of Americans (57%) oppose government monitoring of their phone and computer communications, but 60% say they are OK with government monitoring of American "leaders."

That is according to the second in a series of studies looking at privacy in the wake of the revelations about government surveillance leaked by National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden (the first is reported here). The new study was presented Monday (March 16) at the South by Southwest Conference in Austin, Texas. The survey was conducted Nov. 26, 2014-Jan. 3 among 475 adults 18-plus. The sampling error rate is plus or minus 5.6 percentage points.

Only 13% of the respondents had not heard about the Snowden revelations. Of the 87% who had, 61% said they had made them less confident that such surveillance was in the public interest, while 37% said they had made them more confident about that. The "losing confidence" measure was divided along political lines, with 70% of Democrats saying they were less confident, though a majority of Republicans agreed (55%).

While 60% said it was OK to track the communications of American "leaders" (the survey did not specify what type of leader in the question), close to half -- 49% -- said they thought it was OK to monitor the communications of people who "had friends and followers on social media who used hateful language about American leaders."

A vast majority (82%) of respondents said it is acceptable to monitor the communications of suspected terrorists.

Asked about concerns over monitoring of their own communications, the majority of respondents did not seem particularly worried. Only 39% described themselves as very concerned or somewhat concerned about government monitoring of their search engine activity; 38% about their e-mail messages, 37% about their cell phone calls, 31% about social media sites and only 29% about mobile apps.

The study comes as the House and Senate take up cybersecurity and data privacy bills, and the Obama Administration, which took steps to rein in bulk collection of data following the Snowden revelations, is seeking input on privacy regimes for drones, facial recognition apps, and other data collection and potentially sharing technologies.

It also comes just days after the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA Court) has granted the U.S. government authority to continue collecting bulk metadata from consumers' phone records for selective inspection by the NSA.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.