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Do Americans Support Weakening Encryption? It Might Depend When You Ask.

An Apple employee, right, instructs a journalist on the use of the fingerprint scanner technology built into the company's iPhone 5S during a media event in Beijing.

An Apple employee, right, instructs a journalist on the use of the fingerprint scanner technology built into the company's iPhone 5S during a media event in Beijing. // Ng Han Guan/AP File Photo

After the Paris terrorist attacks, most Americans sided with the feds in a push to require that companies provide the U.S. government access to the contents of people's encrypted data for national security purposes, according to the Centre for International Governance Innovation.

Yet, at the same time, U.S. citizens voiced concerns about the government compromising personal data.

Support for so-called law enforcement backdoors and worries about government cybersecurity demonstrate "the public is ambivalent on a lot of these issues” involving Internet security and trust, Fen Hampson, co-director of the center, said Monday.

Research findings by the center were released as the Senate floats a bill that would help the FBI decrypt communications of suspected criminals and terrorists.

About 60 percent of Americans agree "companies should not develop technologies that prevent law enforcement from accessing the content of your online conversations," one polling question stated.

Hampson said, “that would extend to encrypted data."

The poll was conducted late last fall, before feds in February tried forcing Apple to create a workaround for the encryption security on the San Bernardino's shooter's iPhone 5c.

The FBI's high-profile request that Apple hack into the iPhone might have swayed public opinion in the other direction more recently.

Fast Company labeled the anti-encryption bill introduced last week as "D.O.A." because of a promised filibuster, an obstinate House, a likely presidential veto and "universal opposition from Silicon Valley and privacy groups."

The law enforcement community, as expected, champions the measure. As of Monday, police and prosecutors praising the legislation included New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton and New York County District Attorney Cyrus Vance, as well as members of the Major Cities Police Chiefs Association and International Association of Chiefs of Police.

The debate pitting U.S. authorities against privacy advocates and technologists over the growing use of encryption has persisted for years.

Tomorrow, the San Cupertino, California, tech giant's general counsel and an FBI executive assistant director are set to testify on their positions before a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee.

The bureau last month abandoned the case involving the San Bernardino iPhone 5c after finding a way to unlock it without Apple’s help. But now, the FBI has gone back to court in a fight with the company over breaking into a New York methamphetamine dealer's iPhone 5s.

"Individuals are worried about their own safety and security, and those existential security concerns carry over to the Internet," so many Americans back government efforts to address criminal threats, Hampson said. "Having said that, they are also worried about government surveillance, and governments don't get very high marks for handling the data of their citizens."

About 73 percent of Americans indicated they are more concerned this year about their online privacy because of their own government. Over the past year, the IRS disclosed a security breach that exposed financial data on 700,000 taxpayers, while the Office of Personnel Management discovered a background check hack compromised the identities of 21.5 million Americans.

About a third of Americans think the government is doing enough to protect their personal information from being accessed by industry. Even fewer -- 28 percent -- think the private sector is doing enough to guard personal information from government eyes.

Most experts and many people in the tech sector recognize that "if governments have access to encryption keys or have backdoors,” governments will “not be very good at handling and preserving their own security. Snowden is testimony of that," Hampson said, referring to leaks of classified information by ex-intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.

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