Poll: Americans Already Believed Their Communications Weren't Private Anymore

New Allstate/National Journal Heartland Monitor survey shows lowering expectations for privacy.

A man checks his cell phone during a smoke break outside the Verizon headquarters in lower Manhattan, Thursday, June 6, 2013, in New York. The government has been secretly collecting the telephone records of millions of U.S. customers of Verizon under a top secret court order according to Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. (National Journal)

Amid the disclosure that the federal government has systematically obtained massive amounts of Verizon phone records, a new poll shows that a preponderant majority of adults already fear that their private communications are no longer private.

Americans believe their cell-phone, e-mail, and other communications history is more likely to be accessed without their consent than any other form of sensitive personal information, the latest Allstate/National Journal Heartland Monitor Poll has found.

In the poll, 85 percent of adults surveyed said it was likely that their "communications history, like phone calls, e-mails, and Internet use," was "available for businesses, government, individuals, and other groups to access without your consent." That was a higher percentage than believed that any other kind of private information, such as medical and financial records, is being obtained without their approval.

The survey, which was conducted just before the controversy erupted over the National Security Agency's access to Verizon phone records (although not actual conversations), will be released in full on June 13.

The poll also found that government and cell-phone and Internet-service providers both ranked toward the lower end of institutions that Americans "trust "¦ to responsibly use information" about them. In each case, almost half of respondents said they trusted those institutions "not very much" or "not at all."

Over the years, polls have often found the public divided and ambivalent over measures that pit privacy against national security. Another question in the new survey asked respondents which of a series of possible steps they would support "to improve national security": Just 10 percent endorsed "expanded government monitoring of cell-phone and e-mail activities." The most acceptable option, at 44 percent, was "increased camera surveillance of public places," followed by "increased censorship of websites and less freedom to access sources on the Internet" (at 16 percent). But 42 percent of those surveyed said they opposed all three of those options.

Full results of the survey will appear at National Journal.com and www.theheartlandvoice.com on June 13. The latest Heartland Monitor Poll, conducted by FTI Consulting's strategic communications practice, surveyed 1,000 adults from May 29 through June 2 by cell phone and landline. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points. This is the 17th in a series of surveys examining how Americans are navigating the changing economy.