More Americans now worry more about anti-terrorism policies encroaching on civil liberties than not going far enough to protect the country, according to a new Pew Research Center poll that also shows many Americans believe the government is collecting far more private communications data than it has acknowledged.
By a 47 percent to 35 percent margin, most respondents to the poll said that their bigger concern about United States anti-terrorism policies is that they go too far in restricting civil liberties, rather than not going far enough to protect the country. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released Wednesday likewise found that, by a 56 percent to 36 percent margin, more Americans are worried about government surveillance efforts going too far in invading the privacy of Americans rather than not going far enough in monitoring potential terrorists.
The result marks a reversal in Pew's polling since 2004, which has consistently found that a greater percentage of Americans were concerned about anti-terrorism policies not going far enough rather than going too far. As recently as October 2010, a Pew poll found almost the exact reverse -- 47 percent said that anti-terrorism policies did not go far enough, while only 32 percent said they went too far.
The survey suggests that Americans' views of the National Security Agency's phone and internet data collections could be behind the shift, as most respondents believe the purpose and extent of data collection is broader than what government officials have admitted to publicly.
In the new Pew poll, 70 percent of respondents said they believe the government data collection goes beyond anti-terrorism efforts, while only 22 percent said that the information is being used only to investigate terrorism.
Sixty-three percent of Americans think the government is collecting the contents of Americans' phone calls and emails, while only 18 percent think that only data such as phone numbers and email addresses is collected. In fact, the poll found that 27 percent of Americans think the government is listening to their phone calls or reading their emails.
The results are similar to a HuffPost/YouGov poll conducted in June, which also found an impression among many Americans that NSA programs are more expansive than government officials have claimed.
That poll found that 38 percent of Americans thought the NSA's surveillance programs allowed the agency to listen to the content of any American's phone calls without a warrant, while another 15 percent thought it could listen to the contents of phone calls between Americans and foreigners. Only 26 percent of respondents to that poll said that the NSA programs didn't involve listening to any American's phone calls without a warrant.
On the NSA's online monitoring program, the HuffPost/YouGov poll found that 42 percent think the government can read any American's emails without a warrant and another 15 percent said it could read emails between Americans and foreigners without warrants. Only 18 percent said the the NSA doesn't read any Americans' emails without a warrant.
In spite of their beliefs about the expansiveness of the government's data collection efforts, however, Pew found that more Americans approve than disapprove of the data collection, 50 percent to 44 percent. Even among those who said the government is collecting the contents of phone calls and emails, rather than only metadata, respondents were divided 47 percent to 50 percent over their approval of the program. Those who said the government was using the data for purposes other than anti-terrorism efforts were more likely to disapprove, but only by a 53 percent to 43 percent margin.
By a 56 percent to 30 percent margin, most said that federal courts do not provide adequate limits on what data the government can collect.
The Pew Research Center poll was conducted July 17-21 among 1,480 adults using live telephone interviews over landlines and cell phones.
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