Poll: Privacy Rights Under Attack

Privacy Rights graphic with Privacy Rights text. GD, 020419 AP / CBS

This CBS News/New York Times Poll shows widespread concern about what has become a common business practice -- collecting personal information about individuals. Most Americans condemn the practice, and two thirds think the federal government should be doing more to regulate it. Many Americans are concerned about their own identities being stolen.

Most Americans believe that the right to privacy in general in this country has been compromised. 52% think the right to privacy is under serious threat, and another 30% think it has already been lost. Only 16% think it is still safe.

RIGHT TO PRIVACY IN U.S. IS:
Already lost
30%
Under serious threat
52%
Basically safe
16

Few Americans of any age, ethnic background, gender or income level see privacy as safe nowadays.

COLLECTING PERSONAL INFORMATION

A large majority of Americans express negative views about companies collecting personal information about individuals, including what they buy, their credit histories, and income information. When presented with reasons for and against such practices, 83% say that it is mostly a bad thing because it makes it easier for the information to be shared inappropriately, and just 13% think it is mostly good because it allows companies to better serve their customers and process financial transactions quickly.

COMPANIES COLLECTING PERSONAL INFORMATION
Mostly bad
83%
Mostly good
13%

Among three types of organizations that collect information about individuals, financial institutions are seen as the biggest threat to personal privacy. 60% of Americans point to banks and credit card companies as the biggest threat to their own personal right to privacy. 25% think the federal government represents the biggest threat, and 15% name law enforcement agencies.

BIGGEST THREAT TO YOUR PRIVACY?
Banks/credit card companies
60%
Federal govt.
25%
Law enforcement agencies
15%

This is one area in which Americans clearly think the government ought to be doing more to protect them; 68% think the federal government is not doing enough to regulate the personal information that can be collected about people. 14% think it is doing enough, and 11% think it ought to be doing less.

FEDERAL GOVT. REGULATION OF INFORMATION COLLECTING
Should be doing more
68%
Doing enough
14%
Should be doing less
11%

In fact, nearly nine in ten Americans say they are concerned about identify theft, including more than half who are very concerned. Concern about the theft of personal numbers such as Social Security, phone card or bank account numbers has been high since March 1998.

Concern about identity theft is widespread -- it extends to people in all age, education and income levels.

IDEOLOGY AND RACE

At a time when views about so many national issues divide along party lines, this issue transcends partisanship or ideology. Democrats, Republicans, liberals and conservatives -- all express disapproval of companies collecting personal information, are concerned about privacy rights and identity theft, and call for the government to do more to regulate such activity. In fact, 68% of conservatives (and 69% of liberals) would like to see the government do more to address personal privacy issues.

African Americans express particular concern about privacy issues. 71% are very concerned about identity theft, and 81% think the government should be doing more to regulate the collection of personal information. 57% think personal privacy has already been lost in this country.

VIEWS ON PRIVACY BY RACE
Blacks
Very concerned about identity theft
71%
Govt. should do more to regulate
81%
Privacy already lost
57%

Whites
Very concerned about identity theft
50%
Govt. should do more to regulate
66%
Privacy already lost
26%


For detailed information on how CBS News conducts public opinion surveys, click here.


This poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 1167 adults, interviewed by telephone September 9-13, 2005. The error due to sampling for results based on the entire sample could be plus or minus three percentage points. An oversample of African Americans was also conducted for this poll, for a total of 211 interviews among this group. The margin of error for African Americans is plus or minus seven points.
  • Joel Roberts

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