Sunday, February 26, 2006

Polling security

Obviously, security decisions aren't made by plebescite, and that's for the best. However, the revelation that the NSA's warrantless spying has revealed few if any terrorism leads opens the door to asking a question Harris asked in their latest poll:
Here are some increased powers of investigation that law enforcement agencies might use when dealing with people suspected of terrorist activity, which would also affect our civil liberties. For each, please say if you would favor or oppose it. . . .
In other words, what do you think we aren't doing but should be, and how do you balance security against liberties.

They first asked this question with the same list in September, 2001, and results are remarkably consistent over time. I'd expect that everything would have gone through the roof in the first poll, and gradually settled down since.

"Stronger document and physical security checks for travelers": 84-15

"Expanded under-cover activities to penetrate groups under suspicion": 82-17

"Closer monitoring of banking and credit card transactions, to trace funding sources": 66-33

"Expanded camera surveillance on streets and in public places": 67-32

"Adoption of a national I.D. system for all U.S. citizens": 64-34

"Law enforcement monitoring of Internet discussions in chat rooms and other forums": 60-39

"Expanded government monitoring of cell phones and e-mail, to intercept communications": 44-55

This may offer some guidance about better ways to invest the government's time. Infiltrating al Qaeda (something the CIA never attempted, according to various sources). The NSA should turn its expertise in encryption to better systems for identity verification, and its expertise in tracing connections can better be used in examining financial transactions. Even monitoring publicly available chat rooms would be more popular than monitoring cell phones and email.

But that's what they picked.