How Americans See Surveillance

Most Americans are familiar with U.S. surveillance programs


In accordance with the PEW research carried out in the previous year most Americans are aware about government surveillance programs; however, the attitude of general public greatly differs.

As the study showed, about 31% of all the U.S. population know (and 56% sort of suspect) that the government uses various strategies to monitor terrorist activity in the first place; and that these strategies involve cell phone and email monitoring as well as other means of communication.

Men are better aware of the fact, as the research showed – 37% vs. 26%; and college graduates have more information on the account than people who have only graduated from high school.


Another aspect that was studied in the PEW research is the level of public concern about the surveillance fact. Again, the answers differed to a degree. About 17% of the answers depicted “high” level of concern with the issue, 35% have “some” concern; 33% have “very little” concern over the issue and 13% are “not at all” concerned.

However, most people showed far more concern when it came to the issue of surveillance that related to their own activities (not some governmental terrorist monitoring programs). The reasons and spheres of concern here differ with different groups that were questioned.

  • Search engine concerns gathered about 39%.
  • Email monitoring collected about 38% of concerned answers.
  • Cell phone monitoring issues bothers about 37% of the U.S. citizens.
  • Facebook or Twitter and other social network monitoring by the government find concern in 31% of the audience questioned.
  • Mobile apps monitoring represent concern for about 29% of people.

The statistic also shows that women are less likely to have concerns about government surveillance than men. However, they are much more concerned about the monitoring activities then the question is about their own private matters.

The U.S. citizens also more comfortable with the idea of targeted surveillance of others but only when it doesn’t concern their own matters.

Majority of Americans see targeted surveillance as a necessity in the light of all the terrorist events; they also see it acceptable to have leaders of the country under the radar, at least some part of the population finds it so.

  • Monitoring of the terrorists under suspicion is ok with 82% of Americans
  • 60% find it right to be aware of the American leaders’ communications.
  • 60% fins it normal to monitor foreign leaders.
  • Communications from foreign citizens is not something to hide – supposes about 54% of Ameicans.

However, only 40% of the population inquired finds it unacceptable for the government to monitor their own people; about 57% find it downright unacceptable.

The research revealed several interesting patterns in the answers of the people questioned. The major pattern is that those people who are better aware of the situation with monitoring and government’s potential in this sphere are less likely to approve the idea in general, no matter the target – foreign or home citizens. The same refers to the difference in age groups – younger generations find it much less appropriate and acceptable than older ones.


All in all, here is a brief summary:

  • 77% of all American adult population is in favor of the government’s monitoring activities when the case is about a person who “ has visited a child pornography website”.
  • 68% find it ok to have “someone who exchanged emails with an imam who preached against infidels” under the radar.
  • 67% are in favor of the idea that a person with ties and connections to “known anti-American groups” should be monitored.
  • For 65% it is acceptable to have a person with weapon-related keywords in the search engines monitored.
  • 51% even find it ok to monitor a person with “unusual withdrawal” withdrawals from a bank.
  • The usage of encryption software is a reason for monitoring activity for about 49% of people.
  • 49% think usage of “hateful language about American leaders” is the reason sufficient enough for such a person’s activity to be monitored.

More information and full report can be acquired on the official PEW website.

For more opinions check also TEDtalks on the account of mobile monitoring.

Here is a talk from privacy activist Christopher Soghoian on TED2015 “How to Avoid Surveilance…with a Phone in Your Pocket”.

And another overview from Malte Spitz and his talk on TedGlobal in 2012 “Your Phone Company Is Watching

More related talks on TED here.