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Half of Americans unaware of Obama’s proposed changes to NSA surveillance - poll

Published time: January 20, 2014 22:58
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks about the National Security Agency (NSA) at the Justice Department, on January 17, 2014 in Washington, DC. (Mark Wilson / Getty Images / AFP)

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks about the National Security Agency (NSA) at the Justice Department, on January 17, 2014 in Washington, DC. (Mark Wilson / Getty Images / AFP)

The overwhelming majority of Americans said that President Obama’s recent speech regarding changes to the National Security Agency had little to no effect on their opinion on the surveillance programs, according to a poll released Monday.

In a highly anticipated speech last Friday, Obama said that the NSA would continue to collect metadata on millions of Americans, but the agency would need a judge’s approval and would also have to turn the information over to a third party instead of storing it in the NSA’s databases.

A poll conducted by the Pew Research Center and USA Today has found that Obama’s speech, which came after an intelligence review board recommended the NSA discontinue the collection of phone metadata immediately, did little to change their opinion.

Of the 1,504 adults polled between January 15 and 19, half said they had heard nothing about the President’s proposed changes and another 41 percent said they only heard “a little bit.” A mere eight percent said they heard a lot about potential changes.

Researchers also found that fewer US citizens are in favor of the agency’s mass surveillance than when Edward Snowden first leaked classified documents in June of last year.

In July, just weeks after the first Snowden documents were published by the Guardian and the Washington Post, 50 percent of Americans said they were in favor of the measures, believing they were necessary to fight terrorism. Now, though, 40 percent approve of the far-reaching programs and 53 percent disapprove.

The NSA review board previously suggested in December that the intelligence agency turn over the phone metadata to a phone company or other third party to reduce the risk of government abuse. It also recommended that the NSA be required to seek approval from a judge in order to sift through that information. Obama said Friday that those suggestions will be the new basis for his NSA reforms.

But nearly half of the citizens polled, 48 percent, say there are still not sufficient safeguards on what internet and phone data the government is permitted to collect. Even fewer, just 41 percent, said that there are adequate limits on the data collection as a whole.

Support for the NSA program was clearer when researchers examined party lines. In June 2013 45 percent of Republicans approved of the surveillance while 51 percent disapproved. Seven months later, 37 percent approved and 56 percent disapproved.

Democrats, perhaps out of loyalty to the Obama administration, said in June that they approved of the NSA by 58 percent, with only 38 percent speaking against the policies. By January, the number who approve had fallen to 46 percent while the number who disapproved jumped to 48 percent.

Among those that did hear about the proposals, large majorities of Republicans (86%) and independents (78%) say these changes will not make much difference when it comes to protecting people’s privacy,” the Pew Research Center wrote Monday. “Among Democrats who have heard of the changes, 56% say they won’t make much difference.”

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