The percentage of Americans who put a higher priority on privacy protections than the investigation of terrorist threats has more than doubled in a decade and has hit the highest point in any Post-ABC News poll dating back to summer 2002. Today, about four in 10 say it is more important to protect privacy even if that limits the government’s ability to investigate possible terrorist threats.
Some of the discomfort stems from doubts that the programs are making the United States safer. Only 42 percent say the programs make the country safer. More, 47 percent, see the programs as making little difference in the country’s security. And 5 percent say they actually make the nation less safe.
Details of the programs were revealed earlier this summer by a former government contract worker, Edward Snowden. The NSA has acknowledged that it collects the telephone records of millions of Americans — information on phone numbers they have dialed and the length of their calls — but has said it does not collect the contents of the conversations. The agency previously collected a vast trove of data on Americans’ e-mail but ended that program in 2011.
For the past month, Snowden has been holed up in the transit area of a Moscow airport. As he has awaited word on whether Russia might grant him asylum, sympathy for him has diminished. In the new poll, 53 percent say Snowden should be charged with a crime, up 10 percentage points in a month. About half of all Americans say Snowden’s leaks have hurt U.S. security, although barely more than two in 10 say they’ve had a big effect.
With Snowden’s prospects for asylum in Russia unclear, the White House has been vague about whether President Obama willvisit Moscow to meet with President Vladimir Putin in September.
In the poll, 56 percent say Obama should not cancel his trip if Russia were to grant asylum to Snowden. There have been a few suggestions that the United States should consider boycotting the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, but there’s minimal public support for such a step: 82 percent say the United States should not boycott next year’s Games.
Those who see Snowden’s disclosures as significantly harming U.S. security take a harder line on whether Obama should cancel his trip if Russia grants Snowden even temporary asylum. A majority of this group, 55 percent, say Obama should stay home. Among this group, 32 percent support for an Olympic boycott, but 66 percent remain opposed.