A third of U.S. shield data from gov’t in wake of Snowden

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WASHINGTON — Nearly a third of Americans have taken action to shield their personal data from government surveillance programs that monitor phone and electronic communications, says a Pew Research Center poll released Monday.

Those actions include strengthening privacy settings on social media, avoiding online searches for words such as “explosives” that might trigger government scrutiny, and having more face-to-face conversations instead of communicating online or by phone.

Adults under age 50 are more likely than older Americans to have taken action to protect their data from government snooping, the poll shows. There was no real difference between Republicans and Democrats who responded to the survey.

“This is the first time we have asked whether people have changed their own behavior to avoid the possibility of government surveillance,” said Lee Rainie, Pew’s director of Internet, science and technology research. “And we find that (30%) of the population is adjusting some activity at least in some simple ways.”

Americans who took action told pollsters they knew “a lot” about the government surveillance programs revealed in June 2013 by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. Snowden, a fugitive living in Russia, revealed that the agency was collecting the phone records of millions of Americans not suspected of any terrorist activity. He also leaked documents showing that data about Americans’ online communications and searches may be collected as part of the U.S. government’s surveillance of foreign nationals.

More than half of Americans, 52%, described themselves as “very concerned” or “somewhat concerned” about government surveillance, according to the poll, with 46% saying they are “not very concerned” or “not at all concerned.”

The poll results come as the NSA’s authority to collect bulk phone records under Section 215 of the Patriot Act anti-terrorism law is set to expire on June 1. Congress..

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