3 Reasons Americans Fear Government

Beto Barata/AFP/Getty Images

Beto Barata/AFP/Getty Images

To have true privacy, most Americans seem to believe they’d need to step back into the dark ages, taking a sword or mace to their router and cell phone in one fell swoop. That is how the world changed, or at least how perceptions began to change more rapidly, after former NSA contractor Edward Snowden released his documents on government surveillance.

It’s not that Americans are wrong to be suspicious, but it’s pretty astounding to consider that 91% of respondents to a Pew Research poll said they agreed that “consumers have lost control over how personal information is collected and used by companies.” Only 18% don’t think Americans should be worried about Internet and phone call monitoring from the government, while 80% believe they should be. The polling data shows that Americans perceive landlines as most secure and social media as the least secure, but still a full 46% of Americans feel “not very” or “not at all secure” using their cell phone to conduct a private conversation, and 31% say the same thing about landline phones. And while 46% of phone calls aren’t likely to be monitored, it’s interesting to see that the more modern and recent online forms of socialization like Twitter, Facebook, instant messaging, and email are considered less secure.

There’s a reason — actually, a number of reasons — that Americans are so cynical about their privacy these days. Let’s take a moment to examine some of the highlights that likely linger in the minds of people answering polling questions like these with such an absence of trust you’d think it was 1984 and L.B. Jefferies was president.

Texting: Why the sad face emoticon?

A whole 58% of Americans report feeling insecure in texting private information, according to Pew. Why is that? The answer could lie in a number of different areas. There’s the obvious consideration of Snowden’s documentation that proved cell phone data has been collected and stored by government agencies, including the NSA in massive amounts. While reform on this matter has been in the works, just the fact that this had been happening for so long without knowledge or recognition of everyday people is understandable motivation for concern and distrust — especially since reforms weren’t as strenuous as some may have hoped. There’s also likely the memory still fresh in the minds of Americans regarding German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cell phone and the phone tap discovered on it.

Finally, there’s the taped phone-call of a private conversation between Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt. The call was regarding strategy in handling Russia and events in Ukraine, and while the monitoring was blamed on Russian intelligence, the fact remains that the U.S. has similar powers of observation and invasion.

Ultimately the point is that it’s quite easy to call to mind examples of cell phone tracking, tapping, and invasion — not to long ago, and repeatedly, Snowden described in detail how intelligence services are able to turn on phones remotely, access all sorts of information, turn on cameras or microphones, and so on.   NSA and nude photos

Many of the people searching through the haystacks were young, enlisted guys,” said Snowden in an interview with the Guardian, the publication that published his initial leaks. He was referring to those in the NSA and intelligence community who he saw review the private information of Americans.

“In the course of their daily work, for example, an intimate nude photo of someone in a sexually compromising situation but they’re extremely attractive,” Snowden said. “So what do they do? They turn around in the chair and show a co-worker. And their co-worker says: ‘Oh, hey, that’s great. Send that to Bill down the way.’”

An insight like that from a very public and audible voice, even if Snowden has become controversial for certain political and security interests, understandably shakes public confidence. It also explains the low percentage of Americans that believe “it is a good thing for society if people believe that someone is keeping an eye on the things that they do online.”Being anonymous online

Being sensitive about Internet privacy is also understandable considering most Americans lack of confidence in their ability to remain anonymous on the Internet. Only 24% of adults said they found it easy to be anonymous online, and 61% said they’d “like to do more” to keep their online material private.

At this point, whether because of Snowden’s leaks, technological savvy and education, or general cynicism, most people consider it difficult to retain anonymity online, likely recognizing that IP addresses are fairly easy to track if someone is motivated enough — as is evidenced by the constant backtracking of politically charged tweets in Washington, as seen with the case of Jofi Joseph, a member of the Obama Administration caught tweeting critical things about his own team.

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