The NSA's Phone Program and Public Opinion Polls taken immediately after a USA Today story about the NSA's effort to analyze domestic phone call records show overall support for the program. Americans have gotten a bit more information though the confirmation hearings of CIA director nominee Michael Hayden.

The NSA's Phone Program and Public Opinion

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Michele Norris. Pick up the phone and the sound is familiar.

(Soundbite of dial tone)

NORRIS: Same dial tone. The numbers make the same sounds. But after weeks of hearing about eavesdropping and the alleged collection of telephone records, you wouldn't be alone if those sounds got you thinking. The government acknowledges that the NSA is listening in on calls between the U.S. and other countries without warrants. The administration says that program is legal. Many legal experts disagree.

As for the reports of the NSA compiling a huge database of phone records, neither the president, nor the relevant members of Congress nor the man picked to head the CIA have confirmed or denied the existence of such a program. Two of the phone companies said to have cooperated have issued carefully worded denials.

BLOCK: In this part of the program, we're going to hear about how the phone companies collect your calling information and we'll hear how some people try to avoid creating their own calling records. But first, we've gathered a small sampling of opinion from around the country about the collection of phone records, what people are comfortable with and what they aren't.

NORRIS: Opinion polls show the public divided on the matter. The response of Louise Stewart, a retiree in Anchorage, Alaska, is pretty typical.

Ms. LOUISE STEWART (Alaskan resident): If my phone records had been accessed, I would be very concerned about it. If it was in conjunction with an ongoing investigation, I have no problem with that at all. However if it's as they have used the term “mining” or, you know, just looking for things, I'm a little concerned about that. If they've got some real leads that they're tracking down, no problem at all.

NORRIS: There is genuine concern, however. Joe Milagro(ph) is a graduating senior at Amherst College in Massachusetts.

Mr. JOE MILAGRO (Senior, Amherst College): I'm more than willing to give the government access to things like email records, phone records, cell phone records under the assumption that the government is using it to ferret out those individuals who might seek to do it harm.

If in the future it becomes apparent that the government's using this for reasons other than those stated, I think then it's a cause of concern and one that needs to be addressed. But you need to allow, I think in this case, the government some leeway in determining what the best way is for it to secure the safety of its citizens and the country as a whole.

NORRIS: Still, many people oppose any government information gathering among ordinary citizens, and that opinion is spread across the political spectrum. Don Gasales(ph) is a state employee in Alaska.

Mr. DON GASALES (Alaskan resident): Personally, even though I'm conservative and a Republican, I would be opposed to that. I don't like that at all. It's a little bit too big brother for me. I don't want the government to have anything without my knowledge. It wouldn't bother me because there's nothing to look at, but just the fact that I've got some government agency looking at something that I consider personal, I don't like that at all.

NORRIS: Samantha Crissaw(ph) is a student and a waitress on California's Monterrey Peninsula.

Ms. SAMANTHA CRISSAW (Californian resident): Well, I mean, I'm not a terrorist, you know what I mean? And I haven't done anything that would even lead them to think that I ever would or could be, so I don't think that they have any reason to check it out. Like, I would have to do something to make it seem that way but, I mean not that I don't think that they should be checking, but like the people that are doing that is what I mean. You have to have something that leads to that. You wouldn't just come in my home and look for drugs or, you know, what I have in my home because you don't have the right to. So I think that's the same thing.

NORRIS: Suspicion of a data collection program, not objection, was often voiced in our non-scientific sampling. This is Chris Cooper, a New York construction worker on a job in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Mr. CHRIS COOPER (New York resident): This security thing, I think it's good to a point but, you know, if they're doing it behind your back, I think it's, I just think it's wrong. I know national security's a big issue now, but there's just certain things you don't want everyone to know about, or you'd like to know that people are actually listening in on or knowing who you're talking to. I don't think the government's corrupt, but I don't think it's, you know, squeaky clean. I think they would do that, and I'm pretty positive that they are.

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