Despite suffering a close defeat last week during a House vote on an amendment to defund certain portions of the National Security Agency’s data collection efforts, privacy advocates in the United States are in a better position to gain public support for dismantling portions of the Nation’s surveillance apparatus than they have been in years.
“This was the closest vote I’ve ever seen post-9/11 in regard to reeling in the NSA apparatus,” Amie Stepanovich, director of the Domestic Surveillance Project at the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), told The Hill after the vote. “The numbers on this vote show there’s incredible interest in reforming these programs. I don’t think it matters that it didn’t pass.”
And members of Congress aren’t the only ones who seem to be changing their minds about the need for such invasive spying to protect Americans from terrorist attacks. NSA leaker Edward Snowden’s revelations that the security agency is involved in broad data collection affecting virtually every American has, according to recent polling numbers, made fewer Americans trust that the NSA is seeking information only on terror suspects.
According to numbers from Pew, 56 percent of Americans believe that Federal courts should do more to limit what telephone and Internet data the government can collect as part of anti-terrorism efforts. Seventy percent of those polled expressed concern that the government uses the data for purposes other than investigating terrorism.
Overall, 47 percent of those polled believed that the government has gone too far in restricting the average person’s civil liberties, while 35 percent were more concerned that policies have not gone far enough to protect the country.
Pew also indicates that Republicans and Democrats share similar concern over civil liberties violations:
The increase in concern about civil liberties has taken place across the board, with double-digit shifts in opinion among nearly all partisan and demographic groups. Republicans prioritized security over civil liberties by a 58%-25% margin in 2010. Today, Republicans are as likely to say their bigger concern is civil liberties (43%) as security (38%), a balance of opinion nearly identical to that among Democrats (42% civil liberties, 38% security).
With growing public concern over government spying, and subsequent political pressure on politicians to act, privacy advocates in Congress — like Representative Justin Amash (R-Mich.), who authored last week’s amendment, or Senator Ron Wyden, who has been talking about intelligence agencies violating Americans’ privacy for years — will have a better chance of defeating those lawmakers who find government spying agreeable.
“If we don’t take a unique moment in our constitutional history — in our political history — to fix a surveillance system that [is] just off the rails, I think we’ll regret it,” Wyden told reporters for The Washington Post Friday.
And for those still unwilling to believe that the U.S. surveillance system has truly grown out of control, The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald, the original publisher of Snowden’s leaks, said he would release more information this week detailing how low-level NSA employees can listen to the phone calls and read the emails of American citizens without court approval.
“And what these programs are, are very simple screens like the ones that supermarket clerks or shipping and receiving clerks use, where all an analyst has to do is enter an email address or an IP address and it does two things: it searches a database and lets them listen to the calls or read the emails of everything that the NSA has stored, or look at the browsing histories or Google search terms that you’ve entered,” Greenwald said on “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” Sunday.