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More than half polled OK with NSA tracking to catch terrorists

A full 56 percent of more than 1,000 people polled by Pew Research believe the NSA program is an "acceptable way" for the government to hunt for terrorists.

Lance Whitney Contributing Writer
Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books--one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.
Lance Whitney
Pew Research

The battle between privacy and security has reared its head again with the news that the National Security Agency gained access to the phone records of U.S. citizens. But a majority of people polled think this practice is reasonable.

Among 1,005 Americans surveyed by the Pew Research Center and The Washington Post, 56 percent said they believe that tracking phone records is an "acceptable way" to investigate terrorists. Taking the opposite view, 41 percent consider the practice unacceptable, while 2 percent weren't sure.

Drilling further, 62 percent believe it's important for the government to track down potential terrorist threats even if that affects personal privacy. On the flip side, 34 percent said the government should not interfere with the privacy of its citizens even if that limits its power to investigate possible threats.

Finally, 45 percent think the government should be able to "monitor everyone's e-mail and other online activities if officials say this might prevent future terrorist attacks," while 52 percent said they were against this practice.

Overall, the percentage of people on both sides of the fence is largely the same as it was in 2002, not long after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, according to Pew.

Conducted by phone from June 6 to June 9, the poll contacted Americans 18 years or older.