Poll Shows Security Imbalance In US
by Shaun Waterman
UPI Homeland and National Security Editor
Washington (UPI) April 26, 2007
By a large margin, Americans feel the Bush administration has tipped the balance of security against liberty too far towards security, a new UPI/Zogby polls shows.
But the public remains closely divided on the president's most controversial security programs, favoring by small margins warrantless wiretaps against terror suspects and the broad mining by federal agencies of personal data about U.S. citizens.
When asked whether the Bush administration had "found the right balance between personal security and personal freedom," only one-third (33 percent) agreed. Nearly half (49 percent) agreed instead that the "administration has tipped the balance too far towards security."
Only 7 percent agreed with the third option, that the balance was tipped "too far towards freedom, leaving our security weak."
Asked about specific security programs run by the administration, Americans were generally more supportive of those targeting foreigners.
Two-thirds (66 percent) agreed that the U.S. government had the right to collect personal data about foreign airline passengers coming to the country, which has been a source of ongoing friction with the European Union.
Fifty-five percent agreed that the Terrorism Surveillance Program was "a necessary and legal tool to protect Americans," and 42 percent disagreed. Under the program, the National Security Agency conducts court-authorized but warrantless surveillance of international communications by Americans with suspected terrorists.
But 62 percent also agreed with the proposition that "the government should always be required to get a warrant or court order before monitoring the phone conversations or e-mails of American citizens or legal immigrants."
Americans also appeared closely divided on the merits of federal agencies analyzing vast collections of personal data to look for patterns and connections that might reveal terrorist activity.
Asked about such techniques, known as data-mining, 50 percent agreed that U.S. agencies should be allowed to use them on personal data "like credit card transactions, charitable donations and travel histories," while 46 percent disagreed.
Men were more likely than women to believe that the administration had got the balance between security and freedom right (39 percent for men; 28 percent for women). Women were more likely than men to believe that the balance had tipped too far toward security (53 percent, compared with 45 percent for men).
When broken down by the self-professed ideology of respondents, the survey reveals a predictable near-unanimity among progressives and liberals that the balance has tipped too far towards security. Sixty percent of moderates feel the same way -- 11 percent more than the population as a whole.
Looking at party affiliation, 69 percent of Republicans believe the administration has the balance right, but only 28 percent of independents agree. Fifty-three percent of independents believe the balance is skewed too far to security, 4 percent more than the general population.
The idea that the administration had struck a good balance grew more popular with the increasing age of the respondents. Among 18- to 24-year-olds, 64 percent believed the balance was skewed to security, and only 18 percent thought the administration had it right.
But that balance tilts gradually through increasing age ranges, until among those 70 and over, 49 percent believe the balance to be right and only 35 percent see it as tilted to security.
Similar age-related variations can be seen in opinions about individual programs. Only 38 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds support the Terrorism Surveillance Program, compared with 55 percent of the general population and 72 percent of those 70 and older.
There was also a pronounced gender gap. Sixty percent of men believed the program was "legal and necessary," compared with only 50 percent of women.
Independents were almost as supportive of the program as the general population (53 percent, compared to 55), but only 20 percent of Democrats see it as legal and necessary, compared with 93 percent of Republicans.
There was lukewarm support for an administration proposal, contained in the intelligence authorization bill currently stalled in the Senate, to suspend certain provisions of the Privacy Act to facilitate counter-terrorism information sharing.
Only 39 percent of respondents agreed with that idea, and 54 percent opposed it. Support was much higher among Republicans (68 percent), slightly lower among independents (33 percent), and almost negligible among Democrats (16 percent).
Source: United Press International