Poll: Americans have 'exceedingly low' trust in privacy and security of institutional records

In the wake of the Edward Snowden revelations, new polling data from the Pew Research Center shows high levels of distrust among Americans over privacy, security, and surveillance.

As the authors, Mary Madden and Lee Rainie, concluded, “the new findings show Americans also have exceedingly low levels of confidence in the privacy and security of the records that are maintained by a variety of institutions in the digital age.”

Only 6 percent of respondents indicated “they are ‘very confident’ that government agencies can keep their records private and secure.”  Just another 25 percent were “somewhat confident.”

Equal percentages were “very confident” and “somewhat confident” that telephone companies would protect their data.

In terms of basic privacy-enhancing measures, the following numbers of respondents undertook specific actions:

  • Clearing cookies or browser history (59 percent)
  • Refusing to provide information about themselves that wasn’t relevant to a transaction (57 percent)
  • Using a temporary username or email address (25 percent)
  • Giving inaccurate or misleading information about themselves (24 percent)
  • Deciding not to use a website because they asked for a real name (23 percent)

Only 10 percent engaged in more advanced privacy measures such as encrypting phone calls, text messages, and e-mail or used a service that allows anonymous web browsing (e.g., proxy servers, Tor software, or virtual personal networks – tools chronicled at the Prism Break website).

Two thirds of those polled “say there are not adequate limits on ‘what telephone and internet data the government can collect’” as part of its anti-terrorism activities.

It also seems that older and better-educated Americans are more realistic and street-smart when it comes to technological capabilities:

When considering how difficult it would be for a motivated person or organization to learn private details about their past that they would prefer to keep private ... those ages 50 and older (76 percent) are significantly more likely to believe it would be “not too” or “not at all difficult” when compared with those under the age of 50 (54 percent). Similarly, those with a college degree are more likely than those who have not attended college to feel more exposed (70 percent vs. 58 percent).

These issues could play an important role in the 2016 election, particularly if eloquent advocates such as Rand Paul are able to mount a convincing case against various unnecessarily intrusive surveillance measures.

In the wake of the Edward Snowden revelations, new polling data from the Pew Research Center shows high levels of distrust among Americans over privacy, security, and surveillance.

As the authors, Mary Madden and Lee Rainie, concluded, “the new findings show Americans also have exceedingly low levels of confidence in the privacy and security of the records that are maintained by a variety of institutions in the digital age.”

Only 6 percent of respondents indicated “they are ‘very confident’ that government agencies can keep their records private and secure.”  Just another 25 percent were “somewhat confident.”

Equal percentages were “very confident” and “somewhat confident” that telephone companies would protect their data.

In terms of basic privacy-enhancing measures, the following numbers of respondents undertook specific actions:

  • Clearing cookies or browser history (59 percent)
  • Refusing to provide information about themselves that wasn’t relevant to a transaction (57 percent)
  • Using a temporary username or email address (25 percent)
  • Giving inaccurate or misleading information about themselves (24 percent)
  • Deciding not to use a website because they asked for a real name (23 percent)

Only 10 percent engaged in more advanced privacy measures such as encrypting phone calls, text messages, and e-mail or used a service that allows anonymous web browsing (e.g., proxy servers, Tor software, or virtual personal networks – tools chronicled at the Prism Break website).

Two thirds of those polled “say there are not adequate limits on ‘what telephone and internet data the government can collect’” as part of its anti-terrorism activities.

It also seems that older and better-educated Americans are more realistic and street-smart when it comes to technological capabilities:

When considering how difficult it would be for a motivated person or organization to learn private details about their past that they would prefer to keep private ... those ages 50 and older (76 percent) are significantly more likely to believe it would be “not too” or “not at all difficult” when compared with those under the age of 50 (54 percent). Similarly, those with a college degree are more likely than those who have not attended college to feel more exposed (70 percent vs. 58 percent).

These issues could play an important role in the 2016 election, particularly if eloquent advocates such as Rand Paul are able to mount a convincing case against various unnecessarily intrusive surveillance measures.