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AMERICANS FEAR INTERNET CRIME MORE THAN "BIG BROTHER"

Source: Security Wire Digest

Posted on April 6, 2001

      Many Americans don't trust government agencies, but apparently have no qualms about law enforcement -- particularly the FBI -- intercepting the e-mail of suspected criminals, according to a new study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

      The study's authors suspect the contradictory opinions expressed among 2,096 American adults reflects a deep concern with criminal activity on the Internet, particularly the spread of child pornography. That crime was cited by 92 percent of respondents, ranking it as Americans' biggest online fear. Credit card theft was a somewhat close second with 87 percent, followed by the threat of organized terrorism (82 percent), fraud (80 percent), hacker attacks on government and business networks (76 percent) and destructive viruses (70 percent).

      According to the study, just 31 percent thought the federal government could be trusted when it came to online surveillance and other covert operations intended to uncover crime. That's down from 41 percent in 1988. Yet 54 percent of survey respondents approve of the FBI examining a suspect's e-mails, telephone calls and postal correspondence.

      The FBI was sharply criticized last year for deploying its DCS1000 system, formerly known as Carnivore, which is used to sift through criminal suspects' e-mail. Privacy advocates complained the system could collect data on those not under investigation and could easily be abused.

      Still, those surveyed drew a distinction between criminals and law-abiding citizens. Sixty-two percent agreed new laws are needed to protect the government from invading ordinary citizens' online privacy. Women, Republicans and Caucasians were most likely to support government e-mail monitoring, the study notes.

      The random telephone survey was conducted from Feb. 1 to March 1 and included 1,198 Internet users.




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