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To Snoop or Not: Americans Split on Surveillance Powers

While Americans may not worry much about their own risk of being hacked, opinion is split over whether the U.S. government can defend itself against cyber warfare, according to a new ReportLinker’s survey.

National cybersecurity is likely to be high on President-elect Donald Trump’s agenda when he takes office next year. He has promised to defeat ISIS, and although he hasn’t released details of a plan, it’s likely to include increased government surveillance. What’s more, security experts believe the US is at risk of a major cybersecurity event.

While Americans may not worry much about their own risk of being hacked, opinion is split over whether the U.S. government can defend itself against cyber warfare. Fifty-two percent of U.S. respondents to ReportLinker’s survey believe the nation is prepared, while 48% say it’s notMen appear to be more confident in the nation’s ability, with 20% saying they strongly agree the US is prepared to handle cyberattacks.

Is the US ready to defend the country from cyber warfare?

Is Russia the biggest cyber attack threat to the US?

Recent attacks on U.S. corporations and concerns about election tampering have led to speculation that other governments – in particular, Russia – are using cyberattacks to spy on the U.S. In fact, 53% of Americans say they believe Russia represents the biggest cybersecurity threat, according to ReportLinker. This is especially true among those who believe the U.S. government is the primary target of hackers, 22% of whom strongly agree Russia is the main threat. Even among those who believe corporations are the main target, 43% somewhat agree the Russian government presents the biggest cyberattack threat to the US.    

In the fight against ISIS, it seems likely Trump’s cabinet picks for Attorney General and director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Senator Jeff Sessions and Representative Mike Pompeo, will take a more aggressive approach to surveillance. Both are “leading advocates for domestic government spying at levels not seen since the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks,” Bloomberg says.

It looks like they will have the support of a majority of Americans. In the ReportLinker survey, 64% of US respondents agree the government should have enhanced surveillance powers.

Should regulations on cybersecurity and surveillance power be enhanced?

However, surveillance still raises ethical concerns among Americans, and the nation appears to be divided over what’s acceptable and what’s not. Fifty-two percent of respondents to the ReportLinker survey say the FBI should have access to encrypted information, while 48% disagree.

If Trump’s cybersecurity policy aligns with statements he made on the campaign trail, corporations could have a tougher time refusing government requests for help. In early 2016, Apple denied a request from the Federal Bureau of Investigation to crack the code of the phone used by the San Bernandino shooter. In response, Trump urged a boycott of the company. This could signal a willingness to reverse the curbs imposed after government whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed mass data-gathering by the National Security Agency in 2013.

Again, on this issue, public opinion is split. According to ReportLinker, 52% of Americans say they have a positive view of companies like Apple, which refuse to help the FBI. However, among those who feel the threat of cyberattacks has risen in the last five years, 33% are more likely to express negative feelings about companies who refuse to help the government track down terrorists. Women are also more likely to feel this way, 37% of whom say they disapprove.

Should the FBI have access to encryopted and private information?

The choice between security and privacy is never an easy one, and – in the digital world, at least – Americans clearly haven’t yet found a comfortable balance between the two.

This survey conducted by ReportLinker reached 513 online respondents representative of the US population. Interviews were conducted between November, 23rd and November, 25th 2016.