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Apple's Standoff With FBI Raises Questions About How Americans View Privacy


To find out more about how Americans view this tension between privacy and security, we're joined now by Lee Rainie. He's the director of Internet science and technology research at the Pew Research Center. Welcome back.

LEE RAINIE: Thanks, Ari.

SHAPIRO: You guys published a new report on this a few weeks ago. And you found that 91 percent of adults agree or strongly agree that consumers have lost control of how personal data is collected and used. What does that say to you?

RAINIE: It says that privacy is a enormous concern now on Americans' minds. They have paid a lot of attention over the years to privacy issues but especially since the Edward Snowden revelations and the run of retail data breaches and government data breaches that have occurred in the past couple of years. They're very anxious about the state of play.

SHAPIRO: Do you find that the answers change when you go from general questions about privacy and security to specific questions about, like, terrorism investigations, for example?

RAINIE: That's absolutely the case. The context of the questions and the context of just people's lives as they're answering questions about privacy make a lot of difference in how they answer. When there's a very vivid case in the news that people are concentrated on, their general tendency is to give a little bit of more support to law enforcement and security issues than to personal privacy issues.

SHAPIRO: What does that mean in terms of policy because, for example, in this situation with Apple, you have Apple saying, well, the government would like us to do this one thing in this one case that may seem reasonable to most people but in fact, it's a slippery slope and it will lead to farm more government access than most people would feel comfortable with.

RAINIE: Most Americans are in a very conditional and contingent frame of mind when they ponder these issues. So it's a really complicated environment for policymakers to try to sort out because Americans are not binary in their thinking about privacy. It's not all always about privacy or always about disclosure. Sometimes people want to protect their data, sometimes they're willing to share it and sometimes they're willing to let companies and the government collect their data. So it's a very complicated set of opinions for policymakers and people who run privacy policies to navigate through.

SHAPIRO: You've been doing this kind of research for long time. And as we said, your latest report came out a few weeks ago before this latest standoff between Apple and the Justice Department. Given all the research you've done, what is your assessment of the impact this latest controversy is going to have?

RAINIE: Well, we've seen over the years when there are vivid cases like this that the public when it's asked directly about the case will tend to side by a slight majority with the law enforcement community and on the side of the security issues related to these questions. But over time, as the vividness of the story diminishes, then they become more generally concerned about their privacy. So it's a moving target. And one would expand that the wave of polling that will certainly occur after the Apple FBI story will show that the public might likely be a little bit more supportive of the government than the company in this case. But over time, those views are going to mutate.

SHAPIRO: That's Lee Rainie, the director of Internet science and technology research at the Pew Research Center. Thanks for joining us.

RAINIE: Thanks, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.