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For anyone following the recent events regarding the NSA's surveillance program, the news stories have probably caused you to reflect upon your own beliefs. You might agree that the American government's mass collection of telephone metadata is warranted, so long as it is being used to combat terrorism efforts. You might also argue that these acts of surveillance are an invasion of privacy and a breach of constitutional rights. Regardless of your personal opinion, you know where you stand on the matter. But what does the public as a whole believe in? A new study conducted by the Pew Research Center aims to answer this very question.
According to MSNBC, the study found that 56 percent of Americans deem the NSA's access to millions of telephone records "acceptable". On a similar note, 62 percent of respondents said that the prevention of terrorist attacks was more important than personal privacy. These results can be compared to a similar survey conducted in November 2010, in which 68 percent of survey-takers also took this stance.
One might be led to believe that these results are fairly representative of the entire nation; however, the study identified a major disparity between different age groups.
As much as 45 percent of individuals falling within the ages of 18 and 30 believe that privacy is paramount, "even if that limits the government's ability to investigate possible terrorist threats". In stark contrast, fewer than 30 percent of people over the age of 50 agreed with this sentiment.
These results indicate that the younger generation's dependence on the internet and other communication services might play a larger role than originally expected. In many instances, young individuals have much of their life contained in private accounts hosted on the web, and they are understandably uncomfortable with the government having such open access to their records.
Another interesting finding is that Americans consider spying on emails to be far worse than monitoring phone calls. When asked whether the government should be allowed to riffle through personal emails if it could help combat terrorism attacks, the majority (52 percent) of respondents said no.
Perhaps the question that sparked the biggest concern from civil libertarians was whether the government should be allowed to ramp up surveillance programs even further. The Pew study revealed that 45 percent of Americans would support this decision, as long as the prevention of terrorism was the main goal.