Civil liberties advocates say they have seen a sharp rise in public interest in their causes in recent months after years of lukewarm support.
"For the first time, the public is able to see what's going on behind closed doors and it's changing minds," said Trevor Timm, a staffer with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which has sued the government to obtain secret documents on surveillance.
Obama administration officials have openly acknowledged public discontent. During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Monday on oversight of the NSA's surveillance programs, NSA General Counsel Robert S. Litt said the agency would consider changes that "provide greater public confidence."
Breakdowns of polling data show clear generational divides.
Despite lingering concerns about terrorism, younger Americans appear more insistent than older Americans on greater transparency about surveillance programs as a way to ensure that privacy rights are upheld. Some 72 percent of Americans age 18 to 29 believe a leaker may be justified in providing illegal disclosures if they show the government broke the law. By contrast, 54 percent of those over age 45 say the same.
The growing anxiety about the erosion of civil liberties coincides with deepening pessimism about the war on terrorist organizations. In a poll conducted two years ago by the AP-NORC Center, 53 percent of Americans felt the U.S. was likely to win the war in terrorism over the coming decade or that it had already done so. Now, just 44 percent of Americans expect that victory by 2023.
Americans are less nervous about other precautions that have become institutionalized since the 9/11 attacks. Despite an initial burst of controversy, more Americans favor random full-body scans or pat-downs of passengers at airports — 62 percent now compared to 58 percent in 2011.
The AP-NORC Center survey was conducted Aug. 12-29, 2013 by NORC at the University of Chicago. It involved landline and cellphone interviews in English or Spanish with 1,008 adults nationwide. Results from the full survey have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4.0 percentage points.
Associated Press News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this story.
Online: AP-NORC Center: http://www.apnorc.org
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