Most Americans Aren't Protecting Themselves Against Surveillance

As we inch up on the two-year anniversary of the Snowden leaks, it's important to think about how the Earth-shattering revelations about America's intelligence-gathering have affected Americans. We're all using Tor and DuckDuckGo and PGP and protecting ourselves against surveillance now, right? LOL, no.

Not even close actually. A new Pew study reveals that the vast majority of Americans haven't taken any steps to protect their privacy since the Snowden leaks. Most people know about the surveillance! Like 87 percent of Americans know at least something about the NSA programs revealed by the whistleblower. However, just 34 percent of those Americans "have taken at least one step to hide or shield their information from the government," says the Pew Research Center. The other two-thirds of the country haven't done anything.


Let's unpack these stats for a minute, though. It's worth highlighting that the Pew study is based upon a sample size of just 475 adults. But if ask yourself the same questions: What have you actually done to protect your privacy since you learned how much the United States government scans your data? Are you browsing the web with Tor? Are you encrypting everything? Are you doing anything differently? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, you're probably in the minority.

The Pew numbers reflect a sad reality in which a pitiful 15 percent of Americans have changed their cell phone habits since learning that the NSA is scooping up all their metadata. Only 18 percent of people have changed their email habits. And of all those who are aware of the surveillance programs, only 25 percent of Americans "are using more complex passwords." By the way, picking more complex passwords isn't that hard when the most popular passwords are still "123456" and "password".

Armed with these new stats, we should ask why most Americans aren't changing their behavior in light of the Snowden revelations. The simplest answer might be the best one: Most American's don't care about surveillance. In fact, the majority of Americans are quite fine with increased surveillance in post-9/11 America. The Pew study found that a whopping 82-percent of Americans approved of surveilling terror suspects, while 40-percent of Americans were okay with monitoring other Americans.


Why? There must be a thousand different reasons. However, nearly two years after Edward Snowden leaked all those documents and expose this privacy-crushing NSA programs, it's obvious that the U.S. government isn't going to change its behavior. President Obama's so-called reforms of American intelligence programs were pretty weak. And recent reports who that the NSA's capabilities not only to monitor but also to control Americans' communications is getting better every year. Why would you inconvenience yourself with encryption when the NSA can easily break it?

All that said, there is a bright side. At the very least, most Americans are more aware of government surveillance, and some of them are making an effort to protect their privacy better. Not everybody! However, awareness about the intelligence community's misbehavior is a good first step for watching the watchmen. At least they're a little less invisible and invincible than they used to be.


[Pew Research Center]


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