A CBS News poll released Tuesday shows that the majority of Americans disapprove of the National Security Agency’s newly revealed surveillance techniques when used on average United States citizens. The numbers stand as an interesting contrast to a Pew Research Center poll released Monday showing that many Americans approve of the NSA’s efforts in general.
According to CBS News, 1,015 adult Americans were polled Sunday and Monday about their opinions on the top-secret NSA surveillance programs leaked to the press last week. Fifty-eight percent of responders said they disapproved of such methods being used on “ordinary Americans,” while 38 percent approve. Four percent were not sure of their opinion.
However, while Americans seem opposed to mass surveillance of the "average" person, the majority of responders seemed to have no problem with using NSA surveillance techniques against possible terrorists, even if they are American. When asked if they support collecting the phone records of “Americans suspected of terrorist activity,” a whopping 78 percent said they had no problem with the program. Only 20 percent disapproved, and 5 percent were undecided.
At first glance, these numbers may seem to be in conflict with Monday’s Pew Research Center poll which stated that 58 percent of Americans have no problem with the NSA surveillance techniques. After asking 1,004 American adults for their opinions on NSA surveillance programs like the newly revealed tech-spying program PRISM, Pew pollsters found that 56 percent of Americans have no objection. Nevertheless, 41 percent of responders found the programs completely unacceptable, making them a significant minority.
It’s important to note that the Pew poll did not discuss who the techniques would be used against, which seems to have a large affect on how Americans perceive the issue. Americans seem to be largely opposed to surveillance of presumably innocent fellow citizens, but have less problems with spying on suspects of terrorism. The Pew poll did not make this distinction between targets, which may have led to responders making their own inferences about intended targets of NSA surveillance.
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In the past week, NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden has revealed two large-scale, top-secret NSA surveillance programs. First, Snowden leaked to the Guardian and the Washington Post that the NSA is collecting the phone records of millions of Americans who are customers of Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE:VZ). Then, Snowden leaked news of PRISM, a top-secret surveillance program with direct access to the servers of tech giants such as Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL), Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ:FB), Google Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOG) and the Microsoft Corp. (NASDAQ:MSFT). Snowden remained anonymous until Sunday, when the Guardian and the Washington Post publicly revealed his name and background with his consent.