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27 percent of Americans believe the government has listened to or read their phone calls and emails

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Americans are edgy about federal government collection of “metadata” - the records of their phone calls and emails. But it’s a complicated relationship. A majority still approves of the program despite their misgivings, and Democrats appear more trusting than Republicans.

“A majority of Americans - 56 percent - say that federal courts fail to provide adequate limits on the telephone and internet data the government is collecting as part of its anti-terrorism efforts. An even larger percentage (70 percent) believes that the government uses this data for purposes other than investigating terrorism,” says a wide ranging new Pew Research Center poll.

“And despite the insistence by the president and other senior officials that only ‘metadata,’ such as phone numbers and email addresses, is being collected, 63 percent think the government is also gathering information about the content of communications - with 27 percent believing the government has listened to or read their phone calls and emails,” the research says.

“Nonetheless, the public’s bottom line on government anti-terrorism surveillance is narrowly positive. The national survey finds that 50 percent approve of the government’s collection of telephone and internet data as part of anti-terrorism efforts, while 44 percent disapprove.”

Needless to say, there’s a partisan divide on many aspects:

70 percent of Americans say federal collection of phone and Internet data is used for ‘other purposes’ besides anti-terrorism efforts; 78 percent of Republicans, 60 percent of Democrats and 74 percent of independents agree.

63 percent overall say the content of those communications is also being collected; 64 percent of Republicans, 58 percent of Democrats and 67 percent of independents agree.

56 percent overall say federal courts fail to provide adequate limits on data collection; 59 percent of Republicans, 51 percent of Democrats and 59 percent of independents agree.

50 percent overall approve of the federal data collection program; 44 percent of Republicans, 57 percent of Democrats and 47 percent of independents agree.

47 percent overall say the news media should report on secret methods government uses to fight terrorism; 43 percent of Republicans, 45 percent of Democrats and 51 percent of independents agree.

27 percent overall believe the government listened to or read their calls and emails; 27 percent of Republicans, 23 percent of Democrats and 29 percent of independents agree.

Source: A Pew Research Center poll of 1,480 U.S. adults conducted July 17 to 21.

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