NSA Surveillance and the Big Yawn

I have been frustrated in the past by the results of public opinion polls (see my earlier post on drones, for example). Given that the polls show high levels of support for the use of drones, one should not be surprised that a narrow majority has no problem with the NSA’s surveillance program, according to Pew. Fifty-six percent find acceptable the “NSA getting secret court orders to track calls of millions of Americans to investigate terrorism.” Similarly, 62 percent “say it is more important for the federal government to investigate possible terrorist threats, even if that intrudes on personal privacy.”

What I do find striking is the big yawn. This issue is of little interest to most Americans and it is of the least interest to those who are between the ages of 18 and 29. As Pew notes:

As with most news stories, interest is far higher among older Americans than the young: one-in-three (33%) Americans ages 50-and-older are following news about the government tracking phone records very closely. Among those ages 18-29, just 12% are following very closely, while 56% say they are not following closely at all.

I find this interesting for an obvious reason. Those between 18 and 29 live through social media—their hourly Facebook postings, emails, texts, and tweets. I have former students (my “friends” on Facebook) who have posted literally thousands of pictures of themselves and use social media to report everything from their current location (as if anyone should care) to the music they are listening to on Spotify (ditto).  One would assume that they would have some interest in the issue.

Given the support for the NSA’s policies and the lack of salience among the population as a whole, I would not expect the current controversy to amount to much. My greatest concern: a generation that exposes all through social media and is unconcerned about government surveillance may not prove to be one that would vigorously defend liberty as it ages. Perhaps Grover is right: there is reason to be depressed.

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