Americans OK with online monitoring but not wiretaps

A new survey by the Ponemon Institute finds most people don't mind if the government checks on their email and web searches but don't want companies watching their browsing patterns.

By a margin of 45% to 29%, most people think it's OK for the government to monitor citizens' emal and Web searches, according to a new study by the Ponemon Institute. Government wiretaps of phone calls are another matter, however; 71% of people in the survey objected to government intrustion on the phone, the Washington Post reports.

"The American public, there are some things we really appear to care about; we hate spyware, but we seem to accept other forms of surveillance," including one-way mirrors in department-store dressing rooms and cameras that monitor illicit or dangerous activities in public restrooms, said Larry Ponemon, chairman of the Ponemon Institute, the privacy research group that conducted the phone survey of 889 people.

Corporate monitoring of employees' e-mail and Internet searches for inappropriate content prompted disagreement from only 26 percent of those surveyed, while 72 percent said they would not want an Internet company to download software to capture information about online browsing and shopping behavior.

Two decades ago, nearly any form of supervision would have been socially unacceptable, but today, it seems more people are willing to cede their civil liberties, especially to corporations and increasingly to the government, he said.

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