Edward Snowden’s revelations that the National Security Agency is spying on millions of Americans’ Internet use has had a chilling effect on how Americans feel about using the Internet. A new poll found that almost half of Americans have restricted their Internet use since Snowden’s revelations hit the airwaves.
The poll, conducted for ESET by Harris Interactive Inc, found that 47% of Americans have “changed their behavior and think more carefully about where they go, what they say, and what they do online.” More than half of those, 26%, said they are conducting fewer financial transactions online, including reducing their online shopping habits and online banking. That number was significantly higher for younger Americans. Thirty-three percent of those aged 18 to 34 said they were doing less of their shopping online. Women were also more likely to have reduced their use of the Internet for commercial activity.
The poll did not look at commercial activity only, however. It found that Americans were even less comfortable using email. In fact, 24% of respondents said that they were “less inclined” to communicate via email.
The numbers directly corresponded to outrage about government surveillance. Most of those polled (85%) were aware of the Snowden revelations about Internet spying, and almost the same number (80%) wanted to see new laws established to prevent such widespread surveillance of Americans who show no indication of potential criminal predisposition.
Stephen Cobb, a researcher at ESET, wrote that the economic repercussions of a society in which Americans are less comfortable with online commerce could be extremely problematic in the future. “Important economic sectors ranging from healthcare to education and government are looking at expanded use of electronic communications as a way to cut costs and improve service levels,” he noted. He added, “Those objectives could be harder to attain if a significant percentage of the public is less inclined to use those channels.” The use of the NSA to spy on routine commercial activity is a direct government intervention into the free market, with no specific regulations. This has a chilling effect on the desire to participate in that market.
The increased cynicism towards providing information online is part of a growing trend, one that found Americans even less trusting of some companies than the NSA. A poll released this week by Reason-Rupe found that Americans trust the NSA more than they trust Facebook and Google to protect the private information they find while surveilling them. Only ten percent of Americans trusted Google to keep their information safe, while five percent trusted Facebook.
Whether the federal government will do anything to curb intelligence organizations from following the lives of Americans without a warrant remains to be seen. In a conversation with students at Brooklyn Law School and Judge Andrew Napolitano, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia hinted that he believed the “NSA stuff” would wind up before the Supreme Court sooner rather than later; thus, he refused to give any opinions on the matter.