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New Survey Shows Americans Aren’t Doing Enough To Remain Safe From Surveillance

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Monday, October 19th, 2015


It’s been more than two years since Edward Snowden spilled details about NSA’s spying programs. Since that day, the American media must have published hundreds of thousands of articles on online privacy and the surveillance practices of the U.S. government. But going by the results of a recent survey conducted by Pew Research Center, a majority of American people either haven’t read these articles or are simply not concerned about protecting their privacy. Pew interviewed 475 adults as a part of the study and asked them a range of questions to gauge their opinion regarding privacy and surveillance.

Among the people who were surveyed, 90 percent stated that they had heard at least something about the surveillance programs carried out by the government, 56 percent admitted that they had heard a little bit about such programs, 31 percent said that had heard a lot about them while just 6 percent admitted that they had heard nothing about the government’s bulk data collection programs.

87 percent of the participants who had heard about the government’s surveillance programs were then asked about their own online behavior and the steps they had taken to protect their sensitive data from surveillance and snooping. 34 percent of the respondents said that they had taken at least one step to shield their personal information from surveillance (17% changed privacy settings on social networks, 15% stopped using suspicious apps (13% uninstalled them altogether), 15% used social media less, 14 percent started conversing more in person and 13 percent stopped using certain terms in their communications) while 25 percent of this subset of survey participants admitted to changing their online behavior somewhat or drastically (18% changed the way they used email, 17% changed the way of using search engines, 15% altered the way of using social sites likes Facebook and Twitter and 15% changed the way of using Smartphones).

Despite being aware of NSA’s spying programs, very few Americans seem to be using commonly available privacy tools to secure their communications. For instance, 53 percent of the respondents admitted to not using a search engine like DuckDuckGo which doesn’t store any search history (13 percent didn’t about the existence of such search engines), 46 percent had not started using secure email encryption programs (with another 31 percent being unaware of such tools), 43 percent had not bothered to adopt privacy enhancing browser plugins (plus 31 percent weren’t aware of such plugins) while 41 percent had not considered using anonymity tools like proxies or Tor (an additional 33 percent were unaware of proxies and 39 percent didn’t know anything about Tor).

When asked about government’s surveillance efforts, 82 percent of the respondents said that it is acceptable for the spy agencies to monitor the communications of terror elements, 60 percent said that it is acceptable to monitor communications of US leaders, 60 percent stated that it is acceptable to monitor communications of foreign leaders while 54 percent said that it is okay to monitor communications of foreigners. However, a majority of people (57 percent) were of the view that it is unacceptable for the US spy agencies to monitor the communications of American citizens unless there are some very strong reasons to do so.

The survey results clearly show that while there is a lot of awareness about U.S. government’s surveillance programs, only a handful of internet users are taking concrete steps to secure their privacy. But the people must also keep in mind that unless they start adopting privacy enhancing tools en masse, the government would continue to snoop on their data and private communications.


October 19, 2015
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