Americans support government-backed measures to increase online security

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Most Americans don’t believe their personal information is secure online and are unhappy with the federal government’s efforts to protect it, a survey found.

The poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and MeriTalk shows that 64% of Americans say their social media activity is not very or not at all secure. Just about as many have the same doubts about the security of online information revealing their physical location. Half of Americans believe their private text conversations are insecure.

And they’re not just concerned. They want something to be done. Nearly three-quarters of Americans say they support the establishment of national standards for how businesses can collect, process and share personal data.

“What amazes me is that there is a lot of support for more government action to protect data privacy,” said Jennifer Benz, deputy director of the AP-NORC Center. “And that’s bipartisan support.”

But after years of stalled efforts towards tougher data privacy laws that could hold large companies accountable for all the personal data they collect and share, the poll also says Americans have failed. much confidence in the government to fix it.

A majority, 56%, trust the private sector more than the federal government to manage security and privacy improvements, despite years of high-profile privacy scandals and hacks of US companies from Target to Equifax which have exposed the personal information of millions of people around the world.

Indeed, companies like Apple have gone to great lengths to present themselves as listening to and committed to protecting consumers’ privacy preferences.

“I think there is little to no security at all,” said Sarah Blick, professor of medieval art history at Kenyon College in Ohio. The college’s human resources department told Blick earlier this year that someone had fraudulently applied for unemployment insurance benefits on his behalf.

Such fraud has increased since the pandemic, as perpetrators buy stolen personal credentials from the dark web and use them to flood state unemployment systems with bogus claims.

“I think my information was stolen when one of the credit bureaus was hacked, but it could also have been when Target was hacked or one of the many successful hacks at large companies,” Blick said.

About 71% of Americans believe the privacy of individuals’ data should be treated as a national security issue, with a similar level of support among Democrats and Republicans. But only 23% are very or somewhat satisfied with the federal government’s current efforts to protect the privacy of Americans and secure their personal data online.

“This is not a partisan issue,” said Colorado State Representative Terri Carver, a Republican who co-sponsored a consumer data privacy bill signed by Democratic Governor Jared Polis in July. . It takes effect in 2023.

The legislation, which has met opposition from Facebook and other companies, follows similar measures passed in California and Virginia that give people the right to access and delete personal information. Colorado’s also allows people to opt out of having their data tracked, profiled and sold.

“It was definitely one of the pieces where we had the biggest setback, but we felt it was so important,” Carver said. “Individuals are very frustrated that they do not have the tools and the legal support to establish effective control over their personal data.”

Carver said it took several years to get the law through and advocates have had to give up some priorities, such as the idea of ​​allowing people to register if they want to allow the processing of their personal data – instead of forcing them to withdraw. She hopes the efforts of Colorado and other states will push Congress to put in place protections nationwide.

“We need a strong federal data privacy bill,” she said. “It would make sense, given interstate commerce.”

The poll also found broad agreement on how Americans view technology: 81% of Democrats and 78% of Republicans say they see technology as playing a major role in the country’s ability to be competitive at home. global scale. Seventy-nine percent of Democrats and 56% of Republicans see value in the government’s technology investments.

At least 6 in 10 adults are supporting the federal government by taking actions like spending more on technology, expanding broadband Internet access, and strengthening copyright protections to improve the competitiveness of the United States.

There are some generational variations in support for government policies to protect data privacy and security, although majorities across all age groups are in favor. While 85% of adults 40 and over support tougher penalties for cybercriminals, 70% of young adults say the same.

“The undercurrent is that this is an area where people see a direct role in government,” Benz said. “It’s something pretty tangible for people.”

The AP-NORC survey of 1,004 adults was conducted June 24-28 using a sample drawn from the AmeriSpeak probability-based NORC panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 4.3 percentage points.

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