Sacrificing civil liberties OK to fight terrorism say some Americans

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Consider the rules on government interception of email: Sometimes that's legal and sometimes it's not. It depends on how old the email is, whether it's already been opened by the recipient, whether the sender and recipient are within the U.S., and which federal appellate court considers the question. Sometimes investigators need a warrant and sometimes no court approval is necessary.

The AP-NORC poll found that about half of those surveyed felt that they have indeed lost some of their own personal freedoms to fight terrorism. Was it worth it? Close to half of those who thought they'd lost freedoms doubted it was necessary.

Overall, six in 10 say the government is doing enough to protect Americans' rights and freedoms as it fights terrorism. But people may not even be aware of what they've given up. The extent of government eavesdropping and surveillance is something of a mystery.

There have been recent efforts in Congress — unsuccessful so far — to require the Justice Department to estimate how many people in the U.S. have had their calls and email monitored under a 2008 law that gave the government more surveillance authority. And a recent AP investigation revealed the existence of a secret police unit in New York that monitored daily life inside Muslim communities.

Transportation Security Administration chief John Pistole, in a speech Tuesday at the Center for Strategic & International Studies, took note of the challenge of providing security without trampling on civil liberties, saying: "We have to make sure we're doing everything we can, while respecting privacy and civil liberties — there's a lot of debate about that — as to ensuring that another 9/11 doesn't happen."

For all of their concern about protecting personal rights, Americans — just like policymakers and the courts — show far more willingness to allow intrusions into the lives of foreigners than into their own.

While 47 percent of Americans support allowing the government to read emails sent between people outside the United States without a warrant, just 30 percent supported similar monitoring of emails sent between people inside the country, for example. And while nearly half supported government eavesdropping on phone calls between people outside the country without a warrant, only a quarter favored such surveillance of calls inside the U.S.

"Countries have become bound with political correctness and I think need to be a little more strict," says Jean, despite her warnings about surrendering more freedoms. "Stop being afraid to offend others."

The government can listen in on telephone calls made by foreigners outside the United States without a warrant, but government investigators are generally required to obtain orders signed by judges to eavesdrop on domestic phone calls and other electronic communications within the U.S. The rules are more complex for cross-border communication between foreigners and Americans.

Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, which focuses on privacy and civil liberties, says Americans were surprisingly willing to accept new surveillance techniques in the years after the 9/11 attacks, but the pendulum now appears to be swinging somewhat in the other direction.

"People are just not quite willing to accept these tradeoffs, particularly when they are ineffective," he says.

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