American's don't really mind the spying

2013-06-11 10:28
A woman uses her phone while walking past a Verizon Store in the SoHo neighbourhood of New York City. (File, Getty Images/AFP)

A woman uses her phone while walking past a Verizon Store in the SoHo neighbourhood of New York City. (File, Getty Images/AFP)

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Chicago - We have seen the US government forcefully shove tubes up noses and force-feed the prisoners it has determined will live forever in the rancid prison at Guantanamo Bay.
We have seen President Barack Obama confirm that the country's drone programme (and implicitly its kill list) will not cease.
We have seen this administration pursue whistleblowers at a rate not seen before in the USA, firstly using a World War 1 era law called the Espionage Act, then in its absurd treatment of Bradley Manning (whose trial finally began last week), then using a blanket sweep of the Associated Press' phone lines. While this is often phrased as targeting journalists, it in fact has pushed whistleblowers and leakers back into the woodwork, as the government now has the phone number of everyone who phoned the Associated Press for a three-month period last year. And we found out the government can do this secretly – in fact we don't even know the law under which it chose to exercise this authority.
And then last week The Guardian reported that the American government (through the National Security Agency (NSA)) was seizing telephone records willy-nilly under Bush-era legislation passed to tackle terrorism. Although the passing of such legislation was not news to anyone, the broad scope of the records being lifted by the government – basically all telephone calls and many internet movements of everyone – especially from a president who campaigned against such government power in 2008, was a wake-up call. Simply put: the fourth amendment to the US constitution provides that Americans have a right to not undergo unreasonable searches, and this recent news flies completely in the face of that.
But while we are stomping our feet as foreigners (incidentally, the USA can spy on us as much as it likes without contravening its own limitations), the US political news stories that have given us frowns this year are viewed quite differently in the country itself.

Americans don't really mind

Guantanamo Bay, which contains 166 prisoners who will likely remain there until they die (including those 86 who have been cleared for release or transfer), in spite of government's plan to contain their hunger strike by shoving food down their nasal passages, is approved of by an almost 2:1 margin. According to a Fox News poll nearly half the country thinks the prison makes the USA safer, with only 22% saying the opposite, while 63% of Americans believe the prison should remain open. And this is bipartisan majority belief: Democrats believe 49% to 42% that Guantanamo Bay should remain open, while Republicans are for it 81% to 15%.
In a poll as recent as March, Gallup found 65% of Americans approve of targeted drone strikes against "suspected terrorists" (although this drops to 41% when it is Americans overseas suspected of terrorism). And again, although Republicans are more enthusiastic about the programme (79% approve), a majority of Democrats (55%) are also for it.
And a Pew poll released on Monday showed that Americans don't really mind their government reducing their right to privacy if it is done in the name of fighting terrorism. Amusingly, approval of such tactics by party varies depending on who the president is (a fair portion of people seem to be OK with a president they voted for spying on them), but generally 56% of Americans are OK with it. In polls conducted in 2006, 2010 and 2013, the public has backed the government prioritising investigating terrorism over citizens' right to privacy by 30 to 40 percentage points each time.
In 2006 51% of those polled backed the government reading e-mails and listening to telephone calls without a warrant, while this most recent polls shows that stat up to 56% when asked whether it is acceptable to "[get] secret court orders to track millions of Americans to investigate terrorism".
So while we may sit and judge, and feel disappointment at seeing the country that believed so strongly in liberty being hauled down into a security state, bear in mind that the majority of folks living there aren't really all that worried. 

Read more on:    us  |  privacy

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