New Harris poll finds NSA spying affecting online commerce

85 percent of adult Americans are somewhat aware of NSA spying and many have already changed their online behavior. And the Snowden revelations continue. Where will this end?
Written by Robin Harris, Contributor

A new Harris poll commissioned by security software maker ESET (not available online; reported on here) found that 47 percent of respondents have changed their online behavior and think more about the sites they visit, what they say, and what they do.

Twenty-six percent say that they are now doing less online banking and shopping. More worrying: the 18-34 age group is doing less online.

Twenty-four percent are less inclined to use email. Among 18-34 year olds in households making less than $50,000, a year the the percentage rises to 32.

Fear works

OK, all the big e-commerce sites may be quaking, but the NSA — not so much. Why?

While two-thirds believe technology companies have violated the trust of users by working with the Feds, 57 percent believes that mass surveillance helps prevent terrorism. Really?

I asked Stephen Cobb, Senior Security Researcher at ESET, author of the article about the survey and a long-time security geek, about the disparity between concern about security and support for surveillance.

The NSA revelations brought to the surface concerns that a lot of people had in the area of data privacy. People are now debating with themselves the balance between privacy and security.

People's feelings are becoming more nuanced. People want better oversight, new laws, because people see value in surveillance.

But is the concern temporary or long term?

An analogy would be Watergate in the national consciousness, that people would remember for decades, but it was not one moment in time — the process took years.

Based on an earlier survey, Mr. Cobb believes that the concern level is rising. If that's correct, then Google, Facebook, Amazon, among others, face difficulties:

There is a lot of spillover into the practices of private companies. People have been concerned for years — HIPAA, credit reporting agencies — but after 9/11 other concerns dominated.

Translation: The fears that drove HIPAA in the mid-90s haven't disappeared. The same fears that led to the 2003 dismissal of the Total Information Awareness program — which was secretly continued by his successors. And they are growing again.

The Storage Bits take

These survey results should be a wake-up call to the National Surveillance Community's tone-deaf leadership. The American people are willing to trust you if they believe you are getting proper oversight.

But the drip-drip-drip of Snowden revelations is eroding that support. After all:

Let's all agree that the NSA, CIA, and the rest of the $50-billion-a-year surveillance bureacracy are good barbecue-lovin' Americans. But really, what more can they do to undermine support short of shooting puppies and kittens on American Idol?

The security community is so convinced of their moral superiority that they're out of control. So clueless that their response to the Snowden revelations makes the Keystone Kops look like Nobel prize winners.

Liberty-loving Americans have to look to the major Internet companies to fight with the Military-Industrial-Surveillance Complex now. But as the drip-drip-drip of Snowden revelations continues and more lies and abuses are exposed, the dumber and more self-serving the Three Letter Agencies look.

Obama and the entire executive branch's legitimacy rests on the consent of the governed. When Tea Party ideologues start making common cause with civil rights liberals — as they have — you've got a major problem.

Not as big as we as Americans have with an out-of-control surveillance state, but close.

Comments welcome, of course. What, if anything, could the government do to restore your trust? For me, making Snowden the Inspector General overseeing the intelligence community would be a good start.

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