The Surveillance Scandals

06.08.13

Reader Poll Results: Do you Care That the NSA Is Spying on You?

Government agencies are collecting our phone records and following our Internet trail. But, The Daily Beast wondered, does anyone actually care? We asked our readers and here are the results.

We learned this week that Big Brother is alive and well in these United States and living at the NSA. After news broke that the agency had collected millions of Verizon records and worked with the FBI in a classified program code-named PRISM that rounded up the data of our online lives, we wanted to know whether everyday Americans actually cared that they were being spied on.

It was a close race between you all, dear readers. Many argued that the NSA spying is a necessary evil, while others railed against the government intrusion. But if we have to declare a winner, it looks like the “mehs” have it. Most of you weren’t surprised by the news that you’re being watched and many others said they’ve accepted a general loss of privacy in the Internet age anyway.

Read opinions from your fellow TDB readers and decide for yourself.

Some of you said “Spy away!” as long as it’s in the interest of national security:

This is the reality of addressing terrorism. I'm willing to forfeit privacy to a certain degree to insure national security. As of yet, I do not feel that line has been crossed.
--Mary, OH

They're not out to get me. They're out to get them!                
--Larry, PA

Looking for terrorist communications is like looking for a needle in a haystack; in order to find the needle you need to search the entire haystack. Is it a violation of privacy? Yes. Is it necessary? Yes, if we want to avoid terrorist attacks. This is the price of security and it is expensive.                
--Daily reader, FL

I'm a liberal and a registered Democrat. With one or two exceptions in local races, I vote Dem. I assume that every other large country in the world is engaging in the same kind of personal and intelligence gathering that the NSA is doing. Can I ever know that with certainty...no. I'm just an average citizen not privy to that kind of information. So if that is a correct assumption, and everyone else is engaging in the same kind of data collection (think China or Russia, for example), how stupid would we be if we did not have the same access to data and records when needed? It is still the governments' job to protect its citizens and they can't do it with one hand tied behind their back. The important thing to focus on is trying to enforce against abuse of that data by law enforcement or government (yeah I know, good luck with that). But I can't think of any way to prevent the personal data gathering in the first place. This is not our grandfather's world (nor our fathers' for that matter).
--Betsy, IL

I hope and expect the NSA to be listening.
--Cathy, GA

Apparently it is a necessary step to keep ahead of the terrorists.  I actually appreciate their effort.
-- Annon, UT

If the programs are authorized by the appropriate Executive Branch agencies, approved by Congress, overseen by Congressional Intelligence committees, and reviewed by courts, that is a good start.  Then, if the programs have been operating for years and no real example of any U.S. individual actually being harmed has been discovered, that is also comforting.  Finally, if they are not actually listening to my phone calls or reading my email, then I am not concerned.                                  
--Anon, MD

If it’s the price for peace, I'm in.                 
--Jeff Simpson

Some said that no spying is ever good spying.

Big brother is not only watching--he's moved right in! The program will be abused.
--Kay, IL

I am so disappointed.                
--Diane, CO

Of course, as an American who cares about freedom and our Constitution, I find this deeply concerning. As a matter of principle, this is unbelievably bad. As a practical matter, I find it ridiculous and concerning that most people seem to shrug this off. "Oh, I'm not a terrorist so I don't have anything to worry about." But, of course, when agents of the government are setting the parameters of who they will spy on behind closed doors, you really have no way to know what they're looking at, so you don't really know if you have done anything of interest. It constantly amazes me how nonchalant people are about losses of freedom, so long as they do not perceive an inconvenience to themselves and so long as our contemporary version of bread and circuses includes sexual licentiousness and vast numbers of screens to gape at.                 
--JMoro, ID

There is no need for this gross violation of personal rights under the U.S. Constitution. It's criminal for any governmental agency to abuse their office by doing this.
--Anon, LA

Yes, I care. I think stopping it is hopeless, really.  I have hated it since Bush decided it was okay and Congress backed him up.  There are nothing but crazy people running the government--terrified that someone will pull off a terror plot and they will be blamed by the people for not doing enough-- and so they do too much and violate our rights.
--Melodie, CA

Yes, I really care.  If the entire program is as legal, limited, and tightly controlled as President Obama states, then why the uber secrecy?  I mean, really?  Sweeping, covert collection of the private data of millions of its citizens is something we've always considered to be the purview of a totalitarian country-- a police state--a country that is indifferent to pesky details like warrants, legal constraints, constitutional issues.  Is  this who we are now?  The entire method utilized by the government is a slap in the face to all citizens who actually believe the 4th Amendment should mean something, and that it offers specific legal protections from government intrusion exactly such as this.  If there is no general outrage--no concrete demand from U.S. citizens that this type of program be dismantled, and any such future programs be subjected to greater scrutiny--then we have become those whose passivity will ensure that the police state we have always professed to abhor, will eventually become our own.  Surely, surely there are enough people who care enough not to allow that to happen. "                
--Cathy Peterson, GA

A lot of you said that spying was no surprise and certainly nothing to lose sleep over.

I'm honestly not all that fussed about it.  I've got far bigger things to worry about and if anyone has been monitoring my online presence, they've probably died of boredom by now.  Don't get me wrong--I do fundamentally oppose the sweeping loss of privacy that has resulted from the Patriot Act but... this particular reveal is underwhelming.  I've always been very careful about how I use and interact with the Internet.  Anything put out on the Internet, no matter how private you may think it is, lives forever & privacy is not guaranteed.
-- Ann, CO

Overblown issue. The government is not listening to phone calls or reading emails. They don't care about you, Mr. and Mrs. Civil Liberties Defender.  They want to get the bad guys. No, that doesn’t mean they can expand 'bad guy' definition to include anyone (that is our line in the sand).  This is security agencies responding to digital age.  Not some surveillance state dystopia.
--Anon, NY

Couldn't care less. If the gov't wants to listen to me and my friends plan dinners and gripe about our husbands, go for it. I'm much more concerned about gun control, deteriorating environment, fracking, global climate change…                                  
--Anon, WA

I'm shocked-- shocked!-- to discover that the government is gathering information! How is that different from Google, Amazon, Apple, and Microsoft gathering information?
--Anon, MN

I really don't care at all.  As long as they don't tell the right wing wackos that I work with that I spend time on what I consider to be middle of the road sites like The Daily Beast. Those guys scare me.
--Anon

What confuses me is why so many people are surprised.  This is a very foreseeable outcome given the breadth or secrecy of laws the government has put in place under the guise of preventing terrorism.  Creating FISA courts and then refusing to hear cases because there is "secret" information that can't be revealed even to the judge are other examples of how many of the very people now in Congress voted for a series of laws permitting overreach and then acting like this is some surprise to them.
--Anon, CA

I sorta assumed it was happening anyway. And honestly it doesn't seem that bad. As long as people aren't punished for expressing themselves, or failing to be "patriotic" or whatever, we aren't really in a surveillance state. It's what the government does with the information that's important, and it seems they've been using it legally. I think the only reason people are upset is because they've read too many dystopian books or watched too many dystopian shows. We need to be vigilant, but also reasonable.
--Jake

While others felt conflicted:

Do I like it? No. Is there any choice? No. Obama is right that we can't have 100% privacy and 100% security.  So on balance, as the details are currently explained, I can accept it.
--Anon, MD

I am torn by this. On one hand I want to give the people who are tasked with defending this country every tool available. On the other I am not 100% sure I can trust the people tasked with defending this country.
--Art Fenske, MT

"I do not want to be monitored, but I do want terrorists to be monitored.  The idea that a suspected terrorist might accidentally butt-dial my number, casting suspicion and possibly investigation upon me definite gives me pause. If this program has sufficient judicial oversight, then I would quietly abide by its existence.  The question for me is, does this secret program, still shrouded in a lot of mystery, have enough judicial oversight?  How can I be reassured of this without exposing too much of the program as to make it ineffective against the terrorists that it should be monitoring?"
--Anon, TX

If the government and the NSA can produce proof of the program's effectiveness then I may understand why they have invested in this practice, but if they continue to be shifty and vague about it, they'll lose my trust.
--Moira, PA

A few of you even thought The Daily Beast was in on it!

REALLY? You want people to tell you, on the internet, what they are really thinking about what the NSA and FBI are doing?  Anyone that tells the truth is stupid and a target.
--Anon

…The person in the NSA who is reading this can kiss my ass.                  
--Gary, AZ

So you want us to tell you how we feel?  Are you passing the information off to Obama?
--Anon