Mark M. Jaycox and Trevor Timm
August 14, 2013
Update: Polls further confirm that Americans are deeply concerned with the unconstitutional NSA spying programs. In a July 10 poll by Quinnipiac University, voters were asked whether the government’s efforts “go too far in restricting the average person’s civil liberties” or “not far enough to adequately protect the country.” The poll revealed that Americans largely believe that the government has gone too far by a margin of 45% to 40%. This is a clear reversal from a January 2010 survey in which the same question found that 63% of voters believed the government didn’t “go far enough to adequately protect the country.”
Polls further reveal Americans as highly skeptical of the programs. In an Economist/YouGov poll, 56% of Americans do not think the NSA is telling the truth about the unconstitutional spying. The same poll found that 59% of people disapprove of the spying, while only 35% approve of it. These numbers are not outliers and are supported by a recent Fox News poll (.pdf) finding 62% of Americans think the collection of phone records is “an unacceptable and alarming invasion of privacy rights.”
The latest poll, performed by Pew, affirms every one of these conclusions. Not only are Americans skeptical about the program, but they also believe the government has gone too far—the same exact conclusion found in the Quinnipiac poll. In a series of questions, Pew asked Americans whether they supported or opposed the program with different phrasings. As Pew reports: “Under every condition in this experiment more respondents oppose than favor the program.” The Pew poll is full of evidence supporting the fact that Americans oppose the unconstitutional spying, are skeptical of government claims about the unconstitutional NSA spying, and are increasingly concerned about their privacy rights.
In the 1950s and 60s, the NSA spied on all telegrams entering and exiting the country. The egregious actions were only uncovered after Congress set up an independent investigation called the Church Committee in the 1970s after Watergate. When the American public learned about NSA’s actions, they demanded change. And the Church Committee delivered it by providing more information about the programs and by curtailing the spying.
Just like the American public in the 1970s, Americans in the 2010s know that when the government amasses dossiers on citizens, it’s neither good for security nor for privacy. And a wide range of polls this week show widespread concern among the American people over the new revelations about NSA domestic spying.
Yesterday, the Guardian released a comprehensive poll showing widespread concern about NSA spying. Two-thirds of Americans think the NSA’s role should be reviewed. The poll also showed Americans demanding accountability and more information from public officials—two key points of our recently launched stopwatching.us campaign.
But there’s more. So far, Gallup has one of the better-worded questions, finding that 53% of Americans disapprove of the NSA spying. A CBS poll also showed that a majority—at 58%—of Americans disapprove of the government “collecting phone records of ordinary Americans.” And Rasmussen—though sometimes known for push polling—also recently conducted a poll showing that 59% of Americans are opposed to the current NSA spying.
The only poll showing less than a majority on the side of government overreach was Pew Research Center, which asked Americans whether it was acceptable that the NSA obtained “secret court orders to track the calls of millions of Americans to investigate terrorism.” Pew reported that 56% of Americans said it was “acceptable.” But the question is poorly worded. It doesn’t mention the widespread, dragnet nature of the spying. It also neglects to describe the “information” being given—metadata, which is far more sensitive and can provide far more information than just the ability to “track the calls” of Americans. And it was conducted early on in the scandal, before it was revealed that the NSA doesn’t even have to obtain court orders to search already collected information.
Despite the aggregate numbers, many of the polls took place at the same time Americans were finding out new facts about the program. More questions must be asked. And if history is any indication, the American people will be finding out much more. Indeed, just today the Guardian reported that its working on a whole new series with even more NSA revelations about spying.
One thing is definitely clear: the American public is demanding answers and needs more information. That’s why Congress must create a special investigatory committee to reveal the full extent of the programs. Democracy demands it. Go here to take action.