Survey of Americans’ Privacy Habits Post-Snowden

Original source

Pew Research has a new survey on Americans’ privacy habits in a post-Snowden world.

The 87% of those who had heard at least something about the programs were asked follow-up questions about their own behaviors and privacy strategies:

34% of those who are aware of the surveillance programs (30% of all adults) have taken at least one step to hide or shield their information from the government. For instance, 17% changed their privacy settings on social media; 15% use social media less often; 15% have avoided certain apps and 13% have uninstalled apps; 14% say they speak more in person instead of communicating online or on the phone; and 13% have avoided using certain terms in online communications.

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25% of those who are aware of the surveillance programs (22% of all adults) say they have changed the patterns of their own use of various technological platforms “a great deal” or “somewhat” since the Snowden revelations. For instance, 18% say they have changed the way they use email “a great deal” or “somewhat”; 17% have changed the way they use search engines; 15% say they have changed the way they use social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook; and 15% have changed the way they use their cell phones.

Also interesting are the people who have not changed their behavior because they’re afraid that it would lead to more surveillance. From pages 22-23 of the report:

Still, others said they avoid taking more advanced privacy measures because they believe that taking such measures could make them appear suspicious:

“There’s no point in inviting scrutiny if it’s not necessary.”

“I didn’t significantly change anything. It’s more like trying to avoid anything questionable, so as not to be scrutinized unnecessarily.

“[I] don’t want them misunderstanding something and investigating me.”

There’s also data about how Americans feel about government surveillance:

This survey asked the 87% of respondents who had heard about the surveillance programs: “As you have watched the developments in news stories about government monitoring programs over recent months, would you say that you have become more confident or less confident that the programs are serving the public interest?” Some 61% of them say they have become less confident the surveillance efforts are serving the public interest after they have watched news and other developments in recent months and 37% say they have become more confident the programs serve the public interest. Republicans and those leaning Republican are more likely than Democrats and those leaning Democratic to say they are losing confidence (70% vs. 55%).

Moreover, there is a striking divide among citizens over whether the courts are doing a good job balancing the needs of law enforcement and intelligence agencies with citizens’ right to privacy: 48% say courts and judges are balancing those interests, while 49% say they are not.

At the same time, the public generally believes it is acceptable for the government to monitor many others, including foreign citizens, foreign leaders, and American leaders:

  • 82% say it is acceptable to monitor communications of suspected terrorists
  • 60% believe it is acceptable to monitor the communications of American leaders.
  • 60% think it is okay to monitor the communications of foreign leaders
  • 54% say it is acceptable to monitor communications from foreign citizens

Yet, 57% say it is unacceptable for the government to monitor the communications of U.S. citizens. At the same time, majorities support monitoring of those particular individuals who use words like “explosives” and “automatic weapons” in their search engine queries (65% say that) and those who visit anti-American websites (67% say that).

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Overall, 52% describe themselves as “very concerned” or “somewhat concerned” about government surveillance of Americans’ data and electronic communications, compared with 46% who describe themselves as “not very concerned” or “not at all concerned” about the surveillance.

It’s worth reading these results in detail. Overall, these numbers are consistent with a worldwide survey from December. The press is spinning this as “Most Americans’ behavior unchanged after Snowden revelations, study finds,” but I see something very different. I see a sizable percentage of Americans not only concerned about government surveillance, but actively doing something about it. “Third of Americans shield data from government.” Edward Snowden’s goal was to start a national dialog about government surveillance, and these surveys show that he has succeeded in doing exactly that.

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