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New Poll Shows Americans Anxious About Privacy

The poll – conducted days before the disclosure of top-secret government surveillance programs – also finds that just 48 percent of Americans have "some" or a "great deal" of trust in the government when it comes to the use of their personal data. Similarly, cell phone and Internet service providers are trusted by just 48 percent of the public. Healthcare providers and employers were seen as the most trustworthy institutions with respect to responsible use of information, with 80 percent of all respondent and 79 percent of employed respondents saying they have "some" or a "great deal" of trust in them, respectively.

The survey finds that Americans are also divided on possible steps to improve national security, with just 10 percent supporting expanded government monitoring of phone and email activities. Rather, the public is more likely to favor increased use of camera surveillance of public places, with 44 percent supporting the measure, followed by 16 percent of respondents in favor of "increased censorship of websites and less freedom to access sources on the Internet." However, a full 42 percent of respondents said they oppose all three options.

With respect to privacy in the future, nine in ten poll respondents said they feel that they have less privacy than previous generations and expect the next generation will be even worse off. Meanwhile, a clear majority (88 percent) favors a federal policy to require the deletion of online information and nearly four in ten (37 percent) report they have personally experienced fraudulent use of their personal information to make purchases without their consent.

Importantly, a wide majority of Americans (79 percent) believe that IRS scrutiny of the political activities of certain groups is typical and has probably happened under previous administrations.

When asked to weigh the relative benefits and drawbacks of personal data collection, Americans generally believe the practice has a mostly negative impact. More than half (55 percent) say the collection and use of information is "mostly negative" because the information can be collected and used in a way that can risk personal privacy, peoples' safety, financial security, and individual liberties. A minority (38 percent) believe it is "mostly positive" because more information can result in better decisions about how to improve the economy, grow businesses, provide better service, and increase public safety.

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