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Pew: Majority Of Americans Support NSA Phone Tracking

We're a little late noting this poll, but it's important so we're backing up a bit: A Pew poll released Monday finds a majority of Americans — 56 percent — think the National Security Agency's tracking of phone records "is an acceptable way for the government to investigate terrorism."

Forty-one percent say it is unacceptable.

Pew adds:

"The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center and The Washington Post, conducted June 6-9 among 1,004 adults, finds no indications that last week's revelations of the government's collection of phone records and internet data have altered fundamental public views about the tradeoff between investigating possible terrorism and protecting personal privacy.

"Currently 62% say it is more important for the federal government to investigate possible terrorist threats, even if that intrudes on personal privacy. Just 34% say it is more important for the government not to intrude on personal privacy, even if that limits its ability to investigate possible terrorist threats."

That sentiment really hasn't changed much since 2006. See this graph put together by Pew:

A table showing how the public feels about the balance of privacy and security.
/ Pew
A table showing how the public feels about the balance of privacy and security.

What's more, the sentiment hasn't changed significantly between the Obama and Bush administrations. Fifty-one percent said it was acceptable for the NSA to secretly listen to phone calls and read emails without a court's approval back in 2006.

Pew further points out that like everything these days, there is a partisan divide in those numbers. Pew reports:

"Today, only about half of Republicans (52%) say it is acceptable for the NSA to obtain court orders to track phone call records of millions of Americans to investigate terrorism. In January 2006, fully 75% of Republicans said it was acceptable for the NSA to investigate suspected terrorists by listing in on phone calls and reading emails without court approval.

"Democrats now view the NSA's phone surveillance as acceptable by 64% to 34%. In January 2006, by a similar margin (61% to 36%), Democrats said it was unacceptable for the NSA to scrutinize phone calls and emails of suspected terrorists."

Update at 9:54 p.m. ET. On Email:

Our editor, Catherine Laidlaw, points out another curiosity about this poll: Everyone but the 65 and older crowd think the government should not "be able to monitor everyone's email and other online activities if officials say this might prevent future terrorist attacks."

Over all, 52 percent believe the government should not have that power. Forty-five percent say they should.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.