Poll: Public turning against NSA practices

A majority of Americans now opposes the National Security Agency's (NSA) data-collection practices, according to a new poll conducted by USA TODAY and the Pew Research Center.

In a poll of 1,504 adults, 53 percent said they opposed the government's collection of phone and Internet data as a part of a anti-terrorism efforts. Just 40 percent said they supported such actions.

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The numbers are a drop from last July, when 50 percent supported such efforts and 44 percent were opposed.

Obama's speech on Friday announcing a rollback of the NSA's data-collection occurred right in the middle of the poll's data-collection period of Jan.15-19. However, the speech appeared to have no measurable effect on public opinion of the NSA. Only 8 percent of respondents said they had “heard a lot” about Obama's planned changes, and 50 percent had heard nothing at all. Even among those who had heard something about the changes, 73 percent believed they would not make a difference in terms of protecting privacy.

While a solid majority opposed the NSA's data collection, respondents were evenly split in their attitude toward former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who first brought the programs to light after fleeing overseas to eventual asylum in Russia. Forty-five percent said Snowden's leaks had helped the public interest while 43 percent said he had hurt the public interest.

Despite a plurality saying Snowden had helped the public, a 56-percent majority still believed the government should prosecute Snowden for his actions, and just 32 percent opposed prosecution.

Like last summer, there was a noticeable partisan gap in attitudes. Thirty-seven percent of Republicans backed the NSA's data-collection practices, joined by 46 percent of Democrats. The nine-point gap is smaller than the 13-point gap that existed in June, 2013, when 45 percent of Republicans and 58 percent of Democrats backed the measures.  

The poll had a margin of error of +/- 3 percentage points.