Emily McClintock Ekins
Based on a bevy of polls conducted in the wake of revelations that the NSA surveiled millions of ordinary Americans’ private communications, many have prematurely concluded public support or opposition to the government surveillance program (for instance here, here, and here). These polls are insufficient gauges for what Americans actually think for several reasons. First, slight wording differences result in majority support or opposition of the program as described in each particular survey question, as I’ve written about here. Second, the full extent of these government programs is not yet fully known; fully 76 percent of Americans think that we’ll find out the programs are “even bigger and more widespread than we know even now.” Third, most Americans are not even fully aware of the revealed information and its implications—according to a Time poll only 24 percent of Americans say they’ve been closely following the reports of the large-scale government surveillance program called PRISM.
The public’s view of the information leak and revelations about these programs is complicated, as Americans strike a delicate balance between security and privacy. For instance, a Time poll found that 53 percent of Americans think the “government should prosecute government officials and others who leak classified materials that might damage security efforts,” but 54 percent thought that Edward Snowden, the person who leaked the information about the secret program, “did a good thing in informing the American public.” This is likely because only 30 percent, according to a CBS/New York Times poll, think these leaks will weaken U.S. security.
Examining the different poll wordings can still offer value, demonstrating how people’s opinions change when they learn different details of the program. For instance, the public distinguishes between tracking ordinary Americans not suspected of any wrongdoing and collecting records of those suspected of terrorist activity. Pew/Washington Post found 56 percent thought it was acceptable for the NSA to get “secret court orders to track telephone call records of millions of Americans in an effort to investigate terrorism.” However, a CBS/NYTimes poll distinguished between tracking phone records of ordinary Americans and those suspected of terrorist activity. In contrast to Pew, CBS/NYtimes found 58 percent disapprove of “federal government agencies collecting phone records of ordinary Americans” but 75 percent approve of tracking “phone records of Americans that the government suspects of terrorist activity.” Americans continue to reveal their preference for targeted surveillance when 73 percent told a Rasmussen poll that the “government should be required to show a judge the reason for needing to monitor calls of any specific Americans” and 64 percent said “it is better to collect phone records only of people suspected of having terrorist connections.”
Survey data also suggests Americans distinguish between government tracking phone records and government monitoring the content of online activities. Although polls have found public support for tracking phone records to investigate terrorism, most Americans draw the line at government monitoring the content of Internet activity, such as emails and chats. For instance, Pew found 52 percent think the government should not be able to “monitor everyone’s email and other online activities.” Likewise, when Gallup describing the government program as collecting phone records and Internet communications, 53 percent disapproved.
Surveys that assume away potential misuses and abuses of the data not surprisingly find greater support for government surveillance programs. For instance, A CNN/ORC poll, found 66 percent thought the Obama administration was “right” in gathering and analyzing data on Internet activities “involving people in other countries,” while assuring respondents that the “government reportedly does not target Internet usage by US citizens and if such data is collected it is kept under strict controls.” The validity of this later assertion, however, is actually at the crux of the debate for those critical of the surveillance program. In fact, according to the same CNN poll, nearly two-thirds believe the US government has collected and stored data about their personal phone and Internet activities. Moreover, Rasmussen found that 57 percent thought it was likely that government agencies would use the data collected to “harass political opponents.” The fact that the public’s reported support for the program jumps when survey-wording guarantees the collected data will not be abused suggests that part of the reason the public is wary of the program is the very potential for abuse. The public does not desire privacy for just privacy’s sake, rather the public fears loss of privacy because of the potential for misuse or abuse. Questions that assume away this possibility are entirely unenlightening.
In sum, these data suggest the public is wary of untargeted government surveillance of ordinary Americans, especially without a warrant. They are more tolerant of government tracking phone records; however, many draw the line at government monitoring the content of ordinary Americans’ Internet activity.
A version of this post also appeared on Reason.com
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Germans wary of financial burden they bear for rest of euro zone
BERLIN — The Globe and Mail
Published Sunday, Jun. 10 2012
When primary-school teacher Vanessa Kuhn-Baumann opens her pay statement every month, she thinks dark thoughts about Spain and Greece. Despite the prosperity of her country, her bank statements and tax returns feel like a constant reminder of the price of European solidarity and economic unity.
Like all Germans, Ms. Kuhn-Baumann has a 5.5 per cent “solidarity surcharge” on top of her income tax withdrawn from her paycheques – a fee imposed in 1991 to pay for the reunification of Germany after the communist German Democratic Republic ceased to exist. East Germany at the time looked like Greece does today: broke, unemployment-stricken, inefficient, debt-burdened and in need of outside help.
Meant to be a temporary measure to get the poor and indebted East Germans back on their feet and convert their worthless currency to deutschmarks, the “Soli,” as the tax is known to Germans, has been extended for more than two decades (it is set to expire in 2019) and has cost taxpayers more than $2.2-trillion.
“The last time we Germans bailed someone out was 21 years ago, and look, I’m still paying for it today – I’ve been paying for my entire working life,” says Ms. Kuhn-Baumann, 34, a Bavarian who, since she moved to eastern Berlin, now lives in the former East Germany, a region that remains mired in high unemployment and dependency. “I look around me here, and I wonder what we got for all that money.”
In many ways her attitude, possibly shared by a majority of Germans today, is Chancellor Angela Merkel’s biggest political problem. Any solution to the euro crisis – which this weekend pushed Spain to ask for a continent-wide rescue for its banks – will be expensive for Germany, though nowhere near as expensive as the collapse of the euro or one of its larger member states. But Ms. Merkel faces voters who believe, deep in their hearts, that a euro bailout will be a repeat of the disappointing project of German reunification.
“I think the German taxpayers realize that it’s quite difficult to support another area. They fear that Greece will be a never-ending story like we’ve had with the eastern part of Germany,” says Matthias Kullas, an economist with the German Centre for European Policy. “They’re still making payments for that today, and they look at the Mediterranean and they see another place that looks like East Germany. So, naturally they’re wary.”
It is that wary electorate, rather than her own beliefs, that has caused Ms. Merkel to avoid taking decisive and large-scale action to rescue the euro, say senior officials in her conservative Christian Democratic Union. It is the prospect of a voter revolt that has caused her to talk exclusively of austerity and cutbacks at a moment when economists and other European leaders increasingly agree that an inflationary policy designed to boost demand, led by Germany, is badly needed. Facing a series of knife-edge state elections this year and a national election in 2013, she feels she must avoid statements or actions that could turn public opinion against her party.
That opinion was visible this weekend, as European finance ministers met to bail out Spain’s collapsing banks with a €100-billion ($129.3-billion) loan from the continent’s bailout fund, when a poll for the Bild newspaper showed that 66 per cent of Germans are unwilling to do anything to support Spanish banks, and only 26 per cent are worried about the stability of the euro.
Underlying it all is the dead weight of tens of millions of German voters who, like Ms. Kuhn-Baumann, see the poorer members of the 17-nation euro zone as another set of East Germanys – and note that the former GDR, even after $2-trillion in taxpayer aid, is faring more poorly, by several measures, than neighbouring Poland.
Part of this is the fault of the German media and think tanks, which have constantly repeated the misleading idea that the euro crisis was created by excessive government spending in the periphery, and that Germany is simply paying for the irresponsible profligacy of others. One influential German commentator, the historian Arnulf Baring, has gone so far as to call the euro bailout “Versailles without war” – a reference to the crushing reparation payments imposed on Germany after the First World War.
Statistics: Posted by yoda — Mon Jun 11, 2012 12:29 am
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