By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
Two-thirds of Americans believe that the FBI and other federal agencies are intruding on privacy rights as part of terrorism investigations, but they remain divided over whether such tactics are justified, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll released yesterday.
The poll also showed that 52 percent of respondents favor congressional hearings on how the Bush administration has handled surveillance, detainees and other terrorism-related issues, compared with 45 percent who are opposed. That question was posed to half of the poll's 1,005-person random sample.
Overall, the poll -- which includes questions that have been asked since 2002 and 2003 -- showed a continued skepticism about whether the government is adequately protecting privacy rights as it conducts terrorism-related investigations.
Compared with June 2002, for example, almost twice as many respondents say the need to respect privacy outranks the need to investigate terrorist threats. That shift was first evident in polling conducted in January 2006.
That sentiment is still a minority view, however: Nearly two-thirds rank investigating threats as more important than guarding against intrusions on personal privacy, down from 79 percent in 2002.
Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert who is a professor in Georgetown University's Security Studies Program, said the poll results could spell trouble for the FBI and other government agencies as they continue to seek support for expanded anti-terrorism powers granted after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
"I don't think you can view these polling results in isolation from an overall phenomenon, which is that people are more skeptical of the government's conduct of the war on terrorism," Hoffman said.
Sixty-six percent of those questioned said that the FBI and other agencies are "intruding on some Americans' privacy rights" in terrorism investigations, up from 58 percent in September 2003. Thirty percent think the government is not intruding on privacy.
Support for intrusive tactics has dropped even more significantly during that time. A bare majority, 51 percent, feel the tactics are justified, down from 63 percent three years ago.
The poll was conducted by telephone from Dec. 7 through Monday, and the results have a three-percentage-point margin of error.