56 percent of Americans feel that the NSA’s wiretapping program is an acceptable means by which the government can investigate terrorism, according a Pew Research Poll released yesterday. The numbers reflect that the public is divided on the subject however as 41 percent of Americans consider the practice unacceptable.
The poll, conducted in early June, was sponsored by The Washington Post, and Pew’s release states that the recent disclosures by Edward Snowden regarding the NSA’s programs have not had a significant effect on the public’s views about communications security.
Snowden’s exposure of the NSA’s wiretapping programs are blanketing the media but the study shows that young people are sweepingly uninterested. Only 16 percent of young people were interested or following the story and 49 percent reported following it “not closely at all”. However, when asked about the priority of investigating terrorism at the expense of personal privacy, 45 percent of young people responded that it was more important that the government not invade personal privacy. This feeling digressed as the age of the individual polled increased. The interest in following in the story however was considered reflective of the general age groups that are interested in following news stories, i.e. older Americans are more interested in the news than younger Americans.
Despite public interest in the story, the NSA’s surveillance of electronic and digital communications pose problems of public importance. While Americans may not be interested in the developments, as they are comfortable with the current government, it would be wise to consider that the information being collected by the NSA is subject to retention. So while Obama says that no one is listening to your phone calls, that your emails aren’t subject to voyeuristic intrusion, what guarantees do the public have that the next president will feel the same way?
It may seem Orwellian to think that the government is tracking your phone calls or that they have any interest in the people you are talking to, but the world is becoming more and more connected every day. Our ability to retain the information is only increasing and we may soon reach a point where information is never lost. Some claim that the idea that data is lost today is a fallacy and that we only lack the ability to reference or index it effectively. The capabilities exist to store it, indefinitely.
Joshua is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire.