Jul 30, 2007

Do Americans Really Want to be under Surveillance? The Politics of Polls on the Surveillance Issue

"I love Big Brother".

-- G. Orwell, 1984

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

--4th Amendment, Bill of Rights, U.S. Constitution

The provisions of the constitution of the United States, and of this state, are operative alike in a period of war as in time of peace, and any departure therefrom, or violation thereof, under the plea of necessity, or any other plea, is subversive of good government, and tends to anarchy and despotism.

--West Virginia Constitution 1-3. Continuity of constitutional operation.


Front page Drudge report, and no doubt to be roaring through AP wires to every local news media, was this "news item" (consider how this narrow survey qualified as news) from ABC (the same that brought news of the "National Intelligence Estimate" and other recent "terrorist attempts":

Surveillance Cameras Win Broad Support

Majority of Americans Favor Extra Safety Factor of Cameras

The inference is plain and clear, this is propaganda for political purpose, released to the public. BUT, this so-called research is based upon ONLY ONE QUESTION in a survey conducted. http://abcnews.go.com/images/US/1041a5Surveillance.pdf

This hardly passes for thorough research on the subject yet is paraded as if it is justification to enact and broaden the Leviathan rising Homeland Security system (similar to the total surveillance system in the UK) and local justification for police and crime prevention implementation. CAN THIS REALLY BE CONSIDERED THE DEFINITIVE RESEARCH OR OPINION GATHERING OF AMERICANS ON SURVEILLANCE?

Opinion polls measure, at one moment in time, "public opinion" by a particular statistical methodology which can have significant errors or distortions by

a) how questions are asked,

b) whom the surveys are able to contact,

c) the representative sample of a very small group of participants that might be subject to particular bias in the research, and

d) the timing of the polls corresponding to the context of recent events, news, or other public information programs.

Other research articles on this subject demonstrate that the very methodology on this particular subject of surveillance and privacy is faulty because of the very nature of just whom is surveyed in these polls. See here:

Research article: The Public Politics of Opinion Research on Surveillance and Privacy (pdf file)

A prominent criticism of opinion research is that it can force people to commit to opinions

on issues about which they had previously thought very little and which are only

tangentially relevant to their daily routines. The above anecdote, however, accentuates the

simple but important fact that surveys occasionally address matters that fundamentally

structure how some people live their lives. We want to dwell on this point in the context

of public opinion research on issues of surveillance and privacy (hereafter

surveillance/privacy). In particular, we accentuate the relationship between survey

response rates, contact rates and public concerns about surveillance/privacy.

This research article then explains how the methodology and demographic used in these polls on this particularly topic skews the results heavily toward a particular position:

Surveys are themselves essentially a form of surveillance that some individuals routinely interpret as a

privacy invasion. The issue of differential response in this context represents a classic

instance of a methodological difference that can produce a practical and political

difference. This is because we can expect that the people who systematically make

themselves unavailable for such studies would be precisely those individuals with the

greatest concern about surveillance/privacy. Findings for such studies are consequently

skewed towards what we might characterize as a "pro surveillance" position. It is

therefore particularly alarming to hear politicians appeal to the results of such surveys to

justify new security measures as something the public wants.

And so their conclusion about such polls on this particular subject is this, which inquiring minds ought to consider before concluding that the American population, as reported on Drudge, wants to be under surveillance:

Public opinion surveys on surveillance/privacy are an extreme instance where we can

expect a degree of important non-randomness to be structured into response rates.

The very factors which these surveys seek to document public attitudes towards

surveillance/privacy will, for a subset of the population, be intimately connected with

behaviours that would disproportionately predispose them to be excluded from such

studies. Individuals concerned about increasing surveillance or reduced privacy rights

would, for example, be expected to have a greater penchant for unlisted telephone



The polling numbers then for the subject of measuring public opinion on surveillance and privacy issues by the very nature and demographics of just who those surveys reach make it an unreliable measurement of comprehensive American public opinion.

What we DO know, and what is unmentioned, is what we published in our article here, that CCTV and surveillance cam studies in the UK, where they have long been pervasive, by the government itself prove that SURVEILLANCE DOES NOT DETER CRIME OR PREVENT CRIMINAL EVENTS. There are other better and more reliable methods of getting tips on crimes "going down" and that is the general public which 911 operators will tell you frequently call to report suspicious activity or crimes already. Read our article again:

Mayor Danny Jones wants to bring Big Brother to West Virginia

SECONDARY APPLICATION: RON PAUL and National Polls based upon Listed Phone Numbers and LAN lines.

These same polling methods, also, by direct implication, would greatly affect just who answers polls for particularly political representatives strongly associated with this issue, e.g. Ron Paul! Could this be the answer to why in national polling Ron Paul receives small numbers while on the internet (which reaches a broader audience than the limited public audience via LISTED PHONE NUMBERS AND/OR LAN LINES, INSTEAD OF THE GROWING VOIP PHONE SERVICE) he is the MOST RESEARCHED NAME and has more YouTube and other hits than other republican candidates by a landslide? Obviously the research would suggest this is the case.

Consider this Georgia GOP straw poll on July 4th, and just who faired better, Ron Paul or the Mayor who promotes the greatest threat to the freedoms of Americans:

A Fourth of July straw poll for Republicans

Year after year, the Fourth of July gathering by the Cobb County GOP is one of the largest in the state. On Thursday, 247 cast votes in a presidential straw poll.

To no one's surprise, Fred Thompson — who has a fund-raiser in Atlanta on Friday — was the leader. But the fact that Ron Paul and Mitt Romney finished second and third may be significant. Possibly. It was just a straw poll.

Jason Shepherd, the Cobb coordinator of the Georgia Draft Fred Thompson Committee, sent us the break-down:

Fred Thompson: 30 percent;

Ron Paul: 17 percent

Mitt Romney: 15 percent

Mike Huckabee: 13 percent

Newt Gingrich: 12 percent

Rudy Giuliani: 10 percent

John McCain, Tom Tancredo, Jim Gilmore: 1 percent

No small wonder that Giuliani has decided to avoid straw polls like the prominent one coming up in Iowa! Giuliani, McCain to Pass on Iowa Straw Poll