A new Washington Post-Pew Research Center poll found that 56% of Americans consider the NSA's accessing of telephone call records of millions of Americans through secret court orders "acceptable." A 62% majority believe it's more important for the government to investigate terrorist threats, even if those investigations intrude on personal privacy. Support drops when it comes to government monitoring of emails, but even here, the public is evenly split.
The thing to note from the poll, however, is the partisan split, and how it has evolved since 2006.
Basically, we're a bunch of hypocrites. Democrats don't trust the NSA to respect privacy when it is Bush in power, but are okay when Obama is in power. And vice versa for the Republicans.
In 2006, the Pew Research Center asked the public about attitudes towards the Bush/Cheney warrantless-wiretap program through the NSA, and found that 75% of self-identified Republicans supported the program, while only 37% of self-identified Democrats agreed.
In 2013, those numbers have largely flipped — support for the surveillance is down sharply among Republicans, from 75% to 52%, while support among Democrats has soared, from 37% to 64%.
Steve Benen points out one crucial point: In 2006, the poll question dealt with a warrantless surveillance program in which the Bush administration exceeded its legal authority with no judicial check or congressional approval. In 2013, the Obama administration, at least given what we know now, appears to be acting within its legal authority, relying in part on the courts, and acting within a law approved by bipartisan majorities.
In any event, the larger point is that the American mainstream is far less concerned with federal surveillance programs than civil libertarians had hoped. Indeed, the Post/Pew poll found that 45% of the public — very nearly half — believe the government should be able to go even further than it currently is when it comes to spying on Americans, so long as the goal is to prevent terrorism.