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The public is very worried about government spying

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Before anyone dismisses criticism of the Bush criminal domestic spying program by assuming the American people welcome that behavior, they should read the article in yesterday's NY Times Week in Review on the issue of privacy. The American people make a distinction between commercial privacy and privacy from their government. And, government spying freaks out the public:

[A] poll conducted for Mr. Ponemon last month may show that people hold different views on commercial and government privacy issues. Conducted after The New York Times revealed the N.S.A. surveillance, it suggested great concern. Of those polled, 88 percent expressed concern, and 54 percent said they were "very concerned," he said.

"It was, 'Wow,' " Mr. Ponemon said. The 88 percent figure was more than twice the level of concern of past studies he had seen of public attitudes toward commercial privacy breaches.

The reaction to the president's program could be cumulative, said Bob Barr, a former Republican congressman from Georgia who speaks out on civil liberties issues in alliance with conservative libertarian groups and the American Civil Liberties Union. When the privacy violations on the business side and those on the government side are taken into account, he said, "you get a truly frightening picture."

The issue of government abuse of privacy in the name of security has been growing since the 9/11 attacks, said Alan F. Westin, a privacy expert and consultant who is a professor emeritus of public law and government at Columbia University. He has been tracking consumer attitudes about domestic security issues with telephone surveys since 2001, and has found a growing concern that the checks on government surveillance might be weakening.

Support for expanded government monitoring of cellphones and e-mail messages dropped from 54 percent in September 2001 to 37 percent in June 2005. Those who said they were "very confident" that expanded surveillance powers would be used in a "proper way" dropped from 34 percent in 2001 to 23 percent in 2004, the last year that that specific question was asked. Those who were "somewhat" confident in the government's conduct of surveillance stood at 53 percent in 2004, unchanged from 2001.

"The essence really is a majority of the public does not believe the administration should be given a blank check," Mr. Westin said.
Bush thinks he has a blank check -- even if it means breaking the law. I just have this nagging fear that some of the Democratic consultant and pundit types are going to run to the Hill over the next couple weeks telling the Democrats to back off this issue. On this one, the Democrats have to take a stand and play hard ball. They cannot listen to the same old people who got us to the point where we don't have the House, the Senate or the White House. The American people want bold leadership. And, they don't want their government breaking the law to spy on them.

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