America on Explosive, Controversial NSA Spy Programs: ‘Meh’

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According to some, the recently revealed NSA spy programs represent an existential threat to the Constitution, freedom, and the American way of life. But the country at large is kind of meh about the whole thing. 

According to a new Pew poll, the first to gauge the public's response to the controversial programs, a comfortable majority of the American sheeple — 56 percent to 41 percent — supports the gathering of millions of phone records in the quest to fight terrorism. 

The country is less enamored of NSA's Internet-monitoring efforts: By a 52-45 percent margin, a majority says that the government shouldn't be able to "monitor everyone’s email and other online activities if officials say this might prevent future terrorist attacks.” Of course, this isn't even what the NSA is doing; it's monitoring the online activity of noncitizens who live outside of the country, although the e-mails of Americans do get sucked in accidentally on occasion. One imagines that, had the question been worded to describe the actual, more limited program, support would be a bit higher.

On the more generalized trade-off between security versus privacy, America chooses security: 

Currently 62% say it is more important for the federal government to investigate possible terrorist threats, even if that intrudes on personal privacy. Just 34% say it is more important for the government not to intrude on personal privacy, even if that limits its ability to investigate possible terrorist threats.

Most of these numbers haven't changed all that much since similar questions about similar programs were posed in 2002 and 2006, and really shouldn't come as a surprise. What is a bit surprising is the degree to which 18- to 29-year-olds — the Reddit-reading, libertarian-minded, 9/11 hardly remembering generation — are basically indifferent: Only 12 percent say they're following the story very closely, and 56 percent say they're not following at all