Few people want personal information collected and stored by a vast, impersonal bureaucracy where an individual has no control over who has access to the information or how it may be used to create problems for an individual at some future time. As an aside, most of us like to be able to travel and feel safe without feeling we are being watched by an updated version of the “big brother” computer system made famous by George Orwell.
While the Department of Homeland Security is new, it is massive and has the potential and ability to collect and use personal data. While there is little doubt Congress was not trying to emulate the 1984 scenario, creating a new impersonal bureaucracy may have unintentionally touched on the deepest fears of a society traditionally known for individual achievement more than grouping together to make ourselves feel secure and successful.
And, shortly after Congress created this massive organization, Americans who read about personal information being gobbled up by a bureaucratic computer system to be used in unknown ways by future politicians may protect us from terrorists but the potential for government intervention in our personal lives scares many citizens.
In short, Americans don’t trust the Department of Homeland Security generally and certainly don’t trust the organization to care much about protecting their personal information.
If that has been your suspicion, it has now been confirmed by a statistical analysis of the attitudes of many Americans.
According to the Wall Street Journal, a recent poll showed that a recent survey showed 36% of respondents agreed with the statement that Homeland Security is “committed to protecting the privacy of my personal information.” Forty-three percent in the study disagreed, while 21% were unsure.
In a “privacy trust score,” the agency scored lower than any other category with the exception of grocery stores. Doctors scored at the highest end of the trust survey with 83%.
Agency officials think the low scores are because the agency is new and there has been negative publicity regarding the agency’s proposed plan to collect information from airline passengers.
That government officials’ opinion that the problem is a public relations problem may be true. It may also be that the potential of the new department to watch (and control) all of us in the name of national security just scares the hell out of people and the negative publicity just confirms the biggest fears of Americans.