In a New York Times/CBS NewsPoll, a week after the Boston Marathon attack, which was unraveled after the release of video footage of the two suspects flushed them out of hiding, 78 percent of people said surveillance cameras were a good idea.

Recently, the headlines have been filled with news reports about the National Security Agency tracking cellular phone calls, email and Internet traffic. It appears the programs are legal and, when officials want to dig deeper, a special U.S. court considers and then issues warrants. This effort seems to have resonated differently with Americans and governments abroad relative to privacy.


Data Collection is Troubling

So it is not surprising that new figures from the quarterly Heartland Monitor Pollshow that most Americans exhibit a healthy amount of skepticism and resignation about data collection and surveillance, and show varying degrees of trust in institutions to responsibly use their personal information. Key findings of the poll on security versus privacy included a briefing by Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), a member of the Bipartisan Congressional Privacy Caucus and Jon Leibowitz, former chairman of the Federal Trade Commission.

The 17th quarterly Heartland Monitor Pollinvestigates American attitudes and opinions on the collection and use of their personal information by various groups and institutions and how “big data” affects their personal privacy. The poll asks Americans their impressions of the likelihood that their personal information is available to the government, businesses, individuals and other groups without their consent – and to what extent people believe they can control how much personal information is shared.

A full 85 percent of Americans believe their communications history, like phone calls, emails and Internet use, are accessible to the government, businesses and others. Two in three (66 percent) feel that they have little or no control over the type of information that is collected and used by various groups and organizations. Fifty-nine percent, meanwhile, feel that they are unable to correct inaccurate personal information.


Concerns Grow over National Security Measures

The survey finds that Americans are also divided on possible steps to improve national security, with just 10 percent supporting expanded government monitoring of phone and email activities. Rather, the public is more likely to favor increased use of camera surveillance of public places, with 44 percent supporting the measure, followed by 16 percent of respondents in favor of “increased censorship of Web sites and less freedom to access sources on the Internet.” However, 42 percent of respondents said they oppose all three options.

With respect to privacy in the future, nine in 10 poll respondents said they feel that they have less privacy than previous generations and expect the next generation will be even worse off. Meanwhile, a clear majority (88 percent) favors a federal policy to require the deletion of online information and nearly four in 10 (37 percent) report they have personally experienced fraudulent use of their personal information to make purchases without their consent.

When asked to weigh the relative benefits and drawbacks of personal data collection, Americans generally believe the practice has a mostly negative impact. More than half (55 percent) say the collection and use of information is “mostly negative” because the information can be collected and used in a way that can risk personal privacy, peoples’ safety, financial security and individual liberties. A minority (38 percent) believe it is “mostly positive” because more information can result in better decisions about how to improve the economy, grow businesses, provide better service and increase public safety.

Americans grant varying degrees of trust to different institutions when it comes to responsibly using their information.

The groups and institutions seen as most trustworthy to use information responsibly are those known to “do good” like healthcare providers (80 percent) and law enforcement (71 percent) and those with whom people have entered a close, collaborative arrangement like their employer (79 percent).

The government (48 percent), political parties (37 percent), and the media (29 percent) are on the low end of the spectrum in terms of trust. Given the recent headlines, the IRS is seen as trusted by just over half of Americans (53 percent), with a higher rating than the government (48 percent) as a whole.

The bottom line: People believe that security video is less intrusive than the collection, storage, mining and use of personal data; but they are more responsive to surveillance when in reference to terrorism and homeland security.