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Widely divergent polls suggest that most Americans are ambivalent about NSA surveillance

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When the Pew Research Center released a poll the other day showing majority approval of the National Security Administration’s program tracking the phone records of millions of Americans as a hedge against terrorism, I expressed SURPRISE.

I was surprised again yesterday when Gallup came out with a poll SHOWING MUCH DIFFERENT RESULTS.

And then I ran across a third poll this morning, this one from CBS, which only ADDS TO THE CONFUSION.

The CBS survey shows majority support for monitoring the phone records of suspected terrorists, but not those of ordinary Americans. And yet there was also this:

Asked if the government has gone too far in infringing on people’s privacy in its efforts to fight terrorism, 46 percent think the balance is about right, but 36 percent say the government has gone too far. Just 13 percent think the government hasn’t gone far enough.

And the following suggests that some people feel that government surveillance efforts are making terrorist attacks a little less likely:

Belief that a terror attack in the U.S. is likely within the next few months has dropped since the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings. Now 16 percent think such an attack is very likely, down from 24 percent in April.

All of this divergence of public opinion suggests to me that the situation is fluid and that many Americans are somewhat ambivalent about the matter. That also pertains to my own attitude.

On several occasions in the past week, I’ve said  that this controversy boils down to a few basic questions: How much government snooping is acceptable as a safeguard against terrorism? A lot? A little? None?

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