WASHINGTON – A large majority of Americans say the federal government should focus on investigating possible terrorist threats even if personal privacy is compromised, and most support the blanket tracking of telephone records in an effort to uncover terrorist activity, according to a new Washington Post-Pew Research Center poll.
Fully 45 percent of all Americans say the government should be able to go further than it is, saying it should be able to monitor everyone’s online activity if doing so will prevent terrorist attacks. A slender majority, 52 percent, say no such broad-based monitoring should occur.
Overall, 56 percent of Americans consider the NSA accessing telephone call records of millions of Americans through secret court orders “acceptable,” while 41 percent call the practice “unacceptable.” In 2006, when news broke of the NSA’s monitoring of communications without court approval, there was a closer divide on the practice — 51 percent to 47 percent.
General priorities are also similar to what they were in 2006: Sixty-two percent of Americans now say it’s more important for the government to investigate terrorist threats, even if those investigations intrude on personal privacy, while 34 percent say privacy should be the focus, regardless of the effect on such investigations.
But with a Democratic president at the helm instead of a Republican, partisan views have turned around significantly. Sixty-nine percent of Democrats say terrorism investigations, not privacy, should be the government’s main concern, an 18 percentage-point jump from early January 2006, when the NSA activity under the administration of President George W. Bush was first reported. Compared with that time, Republicans’ focus on privacy has increased 22 points.