Gallup: Americans Value Liberty in Terrorism Fight

Gallup: Americans Value Liberty in Terrorism Fight
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A majority of Americans believe the government should take all steps necessary in its counterterrorism efforts – but without violating their civil liberties, according to a new poll.

The numbers, released by Gallup, highlight a growing trend among Americans who understand the importance of thwarting terror plots, but nonetheless value their personal freedoms.

Sixty-five percent of poll respondents said counterterrorism efforts should not violate their civil liberties – down from a high of 71 percent in 2011 – while just 30 percent saw no issue with those violations if terrorism can be prevented. The results were similar along party lines.

In the months following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Americans were more divided. In January 2002, 49 percent said civil liberties should not be compromised in preventing terrorism, while 47 percent saw violations of their personal freedom as an acceptable trade-off. But by September of that year, the numbers were closer to what they are today – 62 percent to 33 percent.

One of the government’s intelligence-gathering practices was the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of Americans’ telephone metadata – an operation that was curbed last week when President Obama signed the USA Freedom Act as a replacement for the controversial Patriot Act. Under the new law, data will be transferred to the control of phone companies, which can turn those records over to the government if a warrant is obtained.

The Gallup poll found, though, that 55 percent of Americans disagree with Sen. Rand Paul’s belief that current counterterrorism efforts – including the NSA’s – violate civil liberties. Forty-one percent said current methods do violate their civil liberties. This was the first time Gallup had ever asked that question of its respondents.

Critics such as the libertarian-leaning Paul contended that the bulk data collection – which was legally justified by Section 215 of the Patriot Act but deemed illegal by a federal court – was unsuccessful in actually preventing terror plots. Paul, a Republican presidential candidate, staged a 10 ½-hour filibuster against efforts to renew the law, arguing it violates the Fourth Amendment, among other transgressions.

A similar poll released before the Patriot Act battle on Capitol Hill showed that very few Americans trust the NSA’s data collection practices, and most are not confident that the government can keep the data it collects on them fully secure.

The survey of 1,527 adults, conducted June 2-7, has a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.

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