young people and government data surveillance

Sixty percent of young Americans support Edward Snowden’s leaks of the NSA data surveillance program, versus 36% of people age 65 and older. CNN’s latest poll finds that just 45% of young people now approve of the president’s performance, down from 69% in May. Granted, the CNN survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 7.5 percentage points, but it still suggests a decline, and the NSA story is one possible explanation. In USA TODAY, Lauren Kirkwood and Michael Auslen quote me:

Members of the younger generations were also more likely to disapprove of the government’s collection of data, which Peter Levine, director of Tufts University’s Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, attributed to a greater distrust of government.

Although young people are used to sharing private data on social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, which often share user information with advertisers, they don’t view information the NSA gleans from its surveillance programs in the same light.

“I don’t think it’s right for corporations to do that either, but it’s different,” Grace Quiroz, a 24-year-old graduate student from Houston, said. “They (the NSA) can go as far as to hear phone conversations.”

Young people’s concerns don’t all stem from an expectation of privacy online, though.

“I think there’s an expectation of transparency – not privacy,” Levine said. “They’re in a world where they don’t have much privacy because of commercial data mining. But they do seem to have faith in transparency, so they expect governments and other institutions to be open.”

Levine said that although 18- to 29-year-olds might not expect all the information they put online to remain personal, they retain a sense of ownership over it.

“People are used to being traceable and visible. They don’t have a sense of privacy, but they don’t like powerful people using their information, whether it’s Facebook or the government,” he said. “I think they’re pretty suspicious of shadowy power.”

About Peter

Associate Dean for Research and the Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Tufts University's Tisch College of Civic Life. Concerned about civic education, civic engagement, and democratic reform in the United States and elsewhere.
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