New Poll Shows Americans Reject NSA Warrantless Surveillance Program; Majority Recognize Importance of Checks and Balances Against Abuses of Power

February 24, 2006

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WASHINGTON - A new poll commissioned by the American Civil Liberties Union and released publicly today shows that a majority of American voters oppose the Bush administration’s warrantless surveillance of Americans by the National Security Agency. The poll also shows a strong belief in the need for the executive branch to be subject to the checks and balances of the courts and Congress.

"Despite the rhetoric from the White House, these new data show that American voters recognize the need for a strong system of checks and balances," said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. "The secret eavesdropping is clearly illegal, and Congress must do its duty and demand the president stop breaking the law." It is unfortunate that the president continues to present Americans with a false choice: that we must choose between our constitutional rights and our security. This poll is the latest evidence that Americans believe the president does not need to subvert the Constitution to keep us safe."

The poll, conducted by the Washington-based firm Belden, Russonello & Stewart, measured voters’ attitudes toward the warrantless surveillance of Americans by the NSA. The findings were reached through a national telephone survey of 1,012 registered voters conducted between February 8 and February12, 2006. The margin of sampling error for the entire survey is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points at the 95 percent level of tolerance.

The survey reveals key findings about voters’ attitudes toward the government’s warrantless domestic spying program. Specifically, the poll found that:

  • A majority of voters want Congress to “demand that the warrantless eavesdropping be stopped because it is illegal.”
  • A majority of voters oppose the government eavesdropping on Americans’ calls to people overseas without a court warrant.
  • A majority of voters are skeptical that the President acted within the law.
  • A majority of voters express the view that the President can “effectively combat terrorism and follow the law and get court warrants to spy on Americans.”
  • A majority of voters believe the President is wrong to assume that “the Congressional resolution to go to war in Afghanistan to fight terrorism also gave him permission to eavesdrop on Americans without a warrant.
  • Also, at least a third of Republican voters consistently expressed viewpoints that they are concerned that the president is operating outside the law.

The ACLU noted that the results of the poll should be taken into consideration as Congress continues to deal with the illegal program. On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to hold its second hearing on the warrantless eavesdropping. The ACLU, legal scholars, members of Congress, and the non-partisan Congressional Research Service have all raised questions about the legality of the program. The ACLU has also filed a legal challenge to the unconstitutional program.

The poll also found that American voters have serious concerns about the Patriot Act. The Senate is expected to vote on Tuesday on the reauthorization of that bill, and the ACLU has urged Congress to adopt several amendments that would better protect the civil liberties of ordinary Americans. Specifically, the poll found that:

  • Two-thirds of voters who have heard of the act believe “some changes need to be made.”
  • Only two in ten voters say the law should be made permanent.

"When presented with an honest representation, the American voter has serious concerns about the government’s actions," said Lisa Graves, ACLU Senior Counsel for Legislative Strategy. "Congress must listen and take steps to protect our Constitutional freedoms. The American people recognize that the rule of law must be followed by all - especially the president."

The ACLU is a non-partisan organization that does not support or oppose candidates for public office.

To see the PDF results of the poll, go to:
www.aclu.org/safefree/general/24263res20060224.html

To read an HTML summary of the poll, go to:
www.aclu.org/safefree/nsaspying/24262prs20060224.html

For more on the ACLU’s concerns with the warrantless NSA spying program, go to:
www.aclu.org/nsaspying

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