Mike Masnick
April 3, 2014

The folks at the NSA and their defenders used to use the argument that we were on the verge of a “cyber pearl harbor” in their constant attempts to change laws to give the NSA and others in law enforcement and intelligence more powers to spy on everyone (the argument being that they would do this in order to “protect” us). But… it’s beginning to look like the “cyber pearl harbor” wasn’t an attack from foreign hackers… but from the NSA itself. Eric Schmidt recently noted that the NSA’s actions were a hostile “attack” and it appears that many Americans agree. A new poll found that nearly half of American adults who responded have changed some form of online behavior because of the NSA stories, and they think a lot more carefully about where they go, what they say and what they do online.

We’ve pointed out (since the Snowden revelations began) that this was going to have a negative impact on the tech industry, but much of the concerns was from overseas users. However, it’s clear that it’s impacting how Americans view their online habits as well:

When it comes to specific Internet activities, such as email or online banking, this change in behavior translates into a worrying trend for the online economy: over one quarter of respondents (26%) said that, based on what they have learned about secret government surveillance, they are now doing less banking online and less online shopping. This shift in behavior is not good news for companies that rely on sustained or increased use of the Internet for their business model.

Importantly, the study also found that, contrary to the claims of many, the Snowden revelations aren’t just being followed by security-obsessed techies. While the general public may not be keeping tabs on all the details, they are getting the basics.

And in case anyone is tempted to think that this is a narrow issue of concern only to news junkies and security geeks, let me be clear: according to this latest survey, 85% of adult Americans are now at least somewhat familiar with the news about secret government surveillance of private citizens’ phone calls, emails, online activity, and so on.

Once again, it appears that the federal government, and the NSA in particular, have created a huge cost for innovation and economic growth, while having almost no real benefit to show for it.

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