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December 23, 2013

Americans uneasy about surveillance but often use snooping tools

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WASHINGTON —

"Whatever you do on your phone, you shouldn't mind anybody seeing it," said Nia Farmer, 18, a Howard University student whose family owns a place in Ashburn Village. She is okay with NSA efforts to locate terrorists, even if it means collecting information from her phone. "That's all there to protect us," she said.

Farmer is even fine with her mother's insistence on tracking her whereabouts until she turns 25. After all, her mother has been watching her movements remotely since she got her first phone at age 10. "Legally, I'm an adult," Farmer said, "but I keep it on for her because it's all about staying safe. Anyway, if I turn off the app, she gets right on the phone, so I might as well just keep it on."

In the few years since smartphones, social media and the plummeting cost of video technology made it cheap and easy for people to track each other, Americans have grown so comfortable with these technologies that large majorities say they take little or no precautions to protect their digital privacy. Nearly six in 10 Internet users do not use tools that can block websites from tracking their behavior, seven in 10 say they have not deleted online posts that might be embarrassing, and more than eight in 10 say they never encrypt their communications or use tools that allow people to browse anonymously.

Those who act to defend their data are more likely to be male, conservative and well educated.

John Burke, 70, is retired from a career in federal law enforcement and has been disappointed, even angered, by news reports about the NSA's approach to collecting data from U.S. citizens. Burke eschews Facebook and other social media, avoids giving out his Social Security number and tries to steer clear of businesses that sell customer information to other marketers, but he wonders if the effort is worthwhile. "I doubt my precautions are very effective," he said. "We really have no way of knowing what anyone does with our information, and especially what the government does."

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