Study: Most in U.S. want stronger cybercrime laws
(IDG) -- A Pew Research Center study released Monday highlights the growing tension between Americans' concern about Internet crime and their concern about the methods the government uses to prevent it.
Seventy-three percent of Americans are concerned about criminals using the Internet to plan and carry out crimes, while 43 percent are "very concerned," according to a telephone survey of 2,096 adults conducted by the Pew Internet & American Life Project in February. Fifty-five percent approved of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) or other law enforcement agencies intercepting suspect's e-mail; 34 percent disapproved.
But when asked if current laws will sufficiently protect the privacy of e-mail or other online activities, 62 percent of Americans said no. Only 31 percent trust the government to do the right thing most of the time, down from 41 percent in 1988.
Seventy percent of Internet users said that new laws need to be written to protect online privacy, according to the project's study. While 55 percent of non-Internet users said new laws are needed, about one in three nonusers -- 36 percent -- said they don't know enough about that topic to answer the question.
"It is worth noting that since few Americans are aware of the intricacies of current wiretapping laws, a survey about specific changes in the law that are being discussed by experts or highly involved advocates would be of little use," project researchers wrote in an analysis of the results. "Instead, we sought to gauge Americans' general feelings about the balance between digital privacy and law enforcement."
Unwired Americans tend to worry about Internet crime more than those who regularly go online, according to the study. About half of non-users and those with six months or less of Internet experience said they were very concerned, compared to about one-third of Internet users. Only 29 percent of online veterans -- those with three years or more of experience -- were very concerned.
Women, African-Americans, and those with less education are more likely than their counterparts to be very concerned about Internet crime, according to the study. Women are also more likely than men to strongly support e-mail monitoring by law-enforcement agencies.
The study also specifically asked people about "Carnivore," the FBI's controversial e-mail monitoring system, renamed DCS1000 after civil libertarians raised concerns about its capabilities last year. The 20 percent of respondents who had heard of it split down the middle in their impressions. Forty-five percent said Carnivore is good because it will allow the FBI a new way of tracking down criminals, while 45 percent said Carnivore is bad because it could be used to read e-mail to and from ordinary citizens. Four percent said the system is both good and bad, and 6 percent didn't know.
The Princeton Survey Research Associates conducted telephone interviews between Feb. 1 and March 1 for the survey. The study has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percent.
The Pew Internet & American Life Project is a nonprofit initiative of the Pew Charitable Trusts, a Philadelphia-based family foundation, formed to examine the impact of the Internet on society. The full report can be found at http://www.pewinternet.org/reports/toc.asp?Report=32.
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