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Study: Americans Mostly OK With Government’s Online Snooping

The National Security Administration campus in Fort Meade, Md.

The National Security Administration campus in Fort Meade, Md. // Patrick Semansky/AP File Photo

For the most part, Americans seem to have greeted the revelations about government snooping from former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden with a shrug.

In a new report released today by the Pew Research Center, researchers found that 82% of Americans find it acceptable to monitor communications of suspected terrorists, and 60% also said it was fine to snoop on the communications of foreign leaders. Four out of ten were even OK with the government keeping tabs on US citizens.

Some Americans seemed think they deserve a higher level of privacy online than citizens from other countries: There’s a 13-percentage-point difference between American respondents who consider it unacceptable to monitor US citizens, versus citizens of other countries.

Snowden brought to light the collection of American citizens’ online activity and phone records through the PRISM program, a surveillance program set up by the US government that reportedly gathered data from major internet companies such as Google and Facebook.

Pew found that only a quarter of those who were aware of government surveillance programs such as PRISM had actually made changes to their online habits, such as creating more secure online passwords (which would probably not have kept them safe from the prying eyes of PRISM). Some 17% of those surveyed had updated their privacy settings on social media, and only 10% have used a search engine that doesn’t track their search history, like DuckDuckGo.

Perhaps Americans’ lackadaisical approach to security comes down to the fact that most now take as a given that no one has privacy online. According to the report of Pew’s findings shared with Quartz, many respondents argued that citizens should just accept this reality—and not worry about the government surveilling them if they’re doing nothing wrong (echoing an unpopular statement Google Chairman Eric Schmidt made when he was CEO).

“Law-abiding citizens have nothing to hide and should not be concerned,” one respondent told Pew researchers.

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