How do you really feel about e-snooping?

A study suggests that the American public is of two minds when it comes to privacy, attorney Eric J. Sinrod finds.

2 min read
In this era when the federal government says it must take steps to combat and prevent terrorism, the knee-jerk assumption might be to believe that the American public supports governmental surveillance steps.

Wrong! Actually, there also is measurable public concern about the monitoring activities of businesses and employers.

The Ponemon Institute provided CNET News.com with the organization's recent report, titled "Americans' Perceptions About Surveillance" (click here for PDF). The privacy think tank's data indicates that Americans worry about how the government and others monitor their communications and activities.

•  Approximately 90 percent of survey respondents reported that they are not in favor of or are unsure about governmental use of wiretaps.

•  Practically all respondents rejected the notion of the government implanting chips in people for identity verification purposes.

•  More than 85 percent said they are against or unsure about spyware being placed on their personal computers that monitors Internet browsing or shopping behavior.

•  Over 72 percent are not in favor of or expressed mixed feelings about the use of electronic tags, such as RFID, that are embedded in products that could be used to track identities from short distances.

The statistics do not mean that the American public opposes all forms of monitoring. Even though people polled expressed reservations about government snooping, more than 66 percent of respondents said they do not mind having their telephone conversations monitored when contacting customer service representatives.

Interestingly, about 57 percent reported that they are not against having their employers monitor their e-mail and Internet activities in the workplace. Also, more than 57 percent said they would not mind if law enforcement authorities use hidden cameras to monitor traffic or speeding.

By the same token, more than half the people surveyed were not against being selected for additional passenger screening at airports. And about half of the respondents said they do not mind if retailers use one-way mirrors or video cameras in store dressing rooms.

The data suggests that Americans do indeed appear to have aversions to the monitoring of their communications and activities. But again, they seem to be of two minds as they appear less concerned when it comes to monitoring in their employment and in other business settings.

There's also disagreement along gender, class and age lines. Women are more worried about surveillance than are men. People with an advanced education are the most negative about surveillance, while middle-age people are less concerned than are younger and older people.

Maybe the only clear conclusion is that surveillance is taking place whether you like it or not, and you may not have as much privacy as you think.