Examining public perceptions of privacy and security in the post-Snowden era

Summary of Findings

Privacy evokes a constellation of concepts for Americans—some of them tied to traditional notions of civil liberties and some of them driven by concerns about the surveillance of digital communications and the coming era of “big data.” While Americans’ associations with the topic of privacy are varied, the majority of adults in a new survey by the Pew Research Center feel that their privacy is being challenged along such core dimensions as the security of their personal information and their ability to retain confidentiality.

When Americans are asked what comes to mind when they hear the word “privacy,” there are patterns to their answers. As the above word cloud illustrates, they give important weight to the idea that privacy applies to personal material—their space, their “stuff,” their solitude, and, importantly, their “rights.” Beyond the frequency of individual words, when responses are grouped into themes, the largest block of answers ties to concepts of security, safety, and protection. For many others, notions of secrecy and keeping things “hidden” are top of mind when thinking about privacy.

More than a year after contractor Edward Snowden leaked documents about widespread government surveillance by the NSA, the cascade of news stories about the revelations continue to register widely among the public. Some 43% of adults have heard “a lot” about “the government collecting information about telephone calls, emails, and other online communications as part of efforts to monitor terrorist activity,” and another 44% have heard “a little.” Just 5% of adults in our panel said they have heard “nothing at all” about these programs.

Perhaps most striking is Americans’ lack of confidence that they have control over their personal information. That pervasive concern applies to everyday communications channels and to the collectors of their information—both in the government and in corporations.

RTFA for details and conclusions.

The folks at Pew recently asked me why I use their studies, surveys and analysis. Prime – from my perspective – is integrity. They consider the standards inherent in our Constitution inviolable. A group of ideals advanced not only for their time; but, for today. And they would wish, I believe, to carry the standards forward into the future we must all fight for.

I admit to being blasé about the questions we confront in this study. I haven’t had the privacy Pew strives to address as a standard since the very first days I stood up against oppression and racism in this the land of my birth.

On the way to my first sit-in in the civil rights movement, crammed into a VW Kombi owned by the college student driving our very mixed bag of black and white, town and gown, to Virginia – hoping to survive sharing a Coke at some drugstore soda fountain – we were spotted and tailed by the Virginia State Police the instant we crossed their border. Which meant local coppers, FBI, had recorded our departure from New Haven and passed the word along.

Before the 1950’s were out I had my first confrontation with FBI agents who waited outside the factory where I worked. I was the chairman of the union’s COPE committee. The Committee On Political Education – which mostly concentrated on issues and platform questions in local and national elections.

Nothing much to say about it. A standard intimidation tactic back then. It never matters what they say they want to talk to you about. They usually try to sound like they’re really concerned about helping you. Which is a crock. The point they’re making is that they know who you are and what you say.

I told them to stick it where the sun don’t shine and walked away. That all happened before I made it to 1963. Ain’t much changed since as far as privacy in my life is concerned. Laws change. Politicians change a very little. Establishment, government lies about protecting the people haven’t changed a jot.

6 thoughts on “Examining public perceptions of privacy and security in the post-Snowden era

  1. moss says:

    The critical difference being – Eid, you challenged the status quo for corruption, criminal bigotry. Features of a society that government refused to address. Today, the government spies on everyone. You needn’t stand up and stand out to be a target.

  2. Stasi2.0 says:

    “The hunting dogs are playing in the courtyard, but the hare will not escape them, no matter how fast it may be flying already through the woods.” (Franz Kafka)

  3. /ˈeɪ.li.əs/ says:

    Detekt is a free tool that scans your computer for traces of known surveillance spyware used by governments to target and monitor human rights defenders and journalists around the world. By alerting them to the fact that they are being spied on, they will have the opportunity to take precautions.
    It was developed by security researchers and has been used to assist in Citizen Lab’s investigations into government use of spyware against human rights defenders, journalists and activists as well as by security trainers to educate on the nature of targeted surveillance.
    Amnesty International is partnering with Privacy International, Digitale Gesellschaft and the Electronic Frontier Foundation to release Detekt to the public for the first time. http://www.amnesty.org/en/news/detekt-new-tool-against-government-surveillance-questions-and-answers-2014-11-20 includes link to Detekt

  4. Model Citizen says:

    (April 6th, 2015) “Last Week Tonight” host John Oliver recently traveled to Moscow to interview Edward Snowden, “the most famous hero and/or traitor in recent American history” who leaked classified NSA documents to the press and was subsequently charged with violating the Espionage Act in 2013, prompting him to seek asylum in Russia.
    Oliver opened his main segment on government surveillance by acknowledging that “most people would rather have a conversation about literally any other topic,” but noted the importance of the discussion given the impending re-authorization or curtailment of the Patriot Act, scheduled to take place on June 1. The host then noted just how many Americans seem unconcerned by the issue of government surveillance — illustrating that point by interviewing random tourists in Times Square to see if they knew who Snowden is and what he did.
    You can watch Oliver’s entire segment on surveillance below — the interview itself begins around the 16 minute mark. http://www.bostonherald.com/entertainment/television/television_news/2015/04/watch_john_oliver_interviews_edward_snowden_in

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