Americans Saw Threat to Freedoms Before Scandals Came To Light

Published June 14, 2013

In early April, the American Conservative Union commissioned a National Survey on Privacy and Free Speech. In my view, this survey was not only very instructive but also ahead of the curve, finding solid majorities concerned about growing threats to our freedom and privacy.

Keep in mind this survey was taken prior to reports of the scandals involving the IRS singling out conservative groups seeking nonprofit status and the targeting by the U.S. Department of Justice of Associated Press reporters and of Fox News reporter James Rosen.

More recently, we have learned of the data mining of the public’s emails, phone records, and social media sites by the National Security Agency.

Hello, George Orwell …

Many on both the Right and Left are justified to be outraged by the actions of the IRS and the Justice Department — but according to news reports, some seem to believe what is transpiring at the National Security Agency is just fine — so long as it is acting in the name of national security.

However, the ACU survey found that by large margins, the American public is very concerned about the rights to privacy and free speech.

The ACU’S April survey of likely 2014 voters found that 99 percent supported free speech and the right to privacy — which the IRS appears to violated blatantly in its dealings with conservatives, tea parties, religious groups, and targeted reporters.

The survey also found that 89 percent “approved protecting the rights of privacy of American citizens to speak out on issues without fear of reprisal or retribution from anyone, including those in government, the media, their employers, or opposing issue advocacy groups.” 

An overwhelming 86 percent agreed that “private American citizens have a right to privacy when they support any issue advocacy groups.” The same percentage said “American citizens have a right to privacy when they support independent issue groups.” 

Even before the scandals unfolded, most Americans already saw threats from the government to their rights to free speech and privacy. 

Two-thirds believed that actions by Washington endangered our individual freedoms. By a margin of 68-27 percent, respondents said, “our current individual freedoms are being threatened by more federal government regulations from Washington.”

Specifically regarding President Obama, many voters believed he wants to limit free speech. Again, this survey was taken before the scandals were reported and the revelations of data mining by the NSA came to light. By a 50-44 percent margin, voters said, “Barack Obama’s administration has shown a pattern of attempting to limit free speech and take away your personal rights.” 

In April, the majority of voters thought the Obama administration was attempting to discourage political opposition. Fifty-two percent agreed that “by pushing for the disclosure of donors to nonprofit groups that advocate on issues of public concern and causes, such as the environment, education and the economy, the Obama administration is merely seeking to discourage support of positions that are not politically correct or that people may be uncomfortable having disclosed to the public at large.” Only 32 percent disagreed. 

The vast majority of Americans support protections for free speech and privacy. They surely must be appalled by the actions of the IRS and the Justice Department.

And I would suspect that the American people share similar concerns about the NSA’s data mining sweeps of their emails, phone records, and the social media sites they visit.

Clearly, the Obama administration has demonstrated a pattern of infringing on our privacy and free speech.

To ensure our constitutional rights, it’s imperative we hold Obama and his administration accountable.

Marc Rotterman is a senior fellow at the John Locke Foundation and a former board member of the American Conservative Union.

[First published at Carolina Journal Online.]