Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Polling Privacy and Security

Let's begin with the hard data that Lance Whitney presented in his Security & Privacy article for CNET News this morning:
Among 1,005 Americans surveyed by the Pew Research Center and The Washington Post, 56 percent said they believe that tracking phone records is an "acceptable way" to investigate terrorists. Taking the opposite view, 41 percent consider the practice unacceptable, while 2 percent weren't sure. 
Drilling further, 62 percent believe it's important for the government to track down potential terrorist threats even if that affects personal privacy. On the flip side, 34 percent said the government should not interfere with the privacy of its citizens even if that limits its power to investigate possible threats. 
Finally, 45 percent think the government should be able to "monitor everyone's e-mail and other online activities if officials say this might prevent future terrorist attacks," while 52 percent said they were against this practice.
This need not be surprising, but it would have been nice to know a bit about the poll itself. With a sample space as small as 1005, we deserve to know a bit more about its origins. Also, every pollster knows about how to frame questions in order to bias answers.

In other words, at the very least, one cannot really attach very much to these results without a hyperlink that provides a more thorough account of the polling process. The Pew Research Center is an independent think tank, but that tends to mean that their polls are supported by outside funding. It is unclear whether or not The Washington Post provided all of that funding; but, even if they did, it is important to remember that there is never any such thing as a "totally objective" poll. Thus, we have a right to know where subjective bias entered the process in this case.

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