MSNBC journalist Bob Sullivan, in his blog Red Tape Chronicles, writes:
Ask Americans something like, “Should the government be allowed to read e-mails and listen to phone calls to fight terrorism?” and you’ll get a much different result than if you ask, “Should the government be allowed to read your e-mails and listen to your phone calls to fight terrorism.” . . . .
In 2002, The Pew Research Center for People and The Press asked just those questions — and by simply dropping the word “your,” the number of people willing to support such government snooping jumped by 50 percent. Only 22 percent were willing to let the government peek when it was personal, but 33 percent were willing when it sounded like only someone’s else privacy was at risk, said Scott Keeter, director of survey research for Pew.
Another issue, when it comes to framing questions in polls, is whether warrants are mentioned. Consider the question above: “Should the government be allowed to read e-mails and listen to phone calls to fight terrorism?” I’d even answer yes. The government should be allowed to conduct a wide range of searches . . . . with a search warrant, however. Indeed, under the Fourth Amendment, the government can read email and listen to phone calls with a search warrant. [The Electronic Communications Privacy Act requires a slightly more protective order than a warrant to engage in domestic wiretapping.]
So the question should be posed as: “Should the government be allowed to read e-mails and listen to phone calls without a search warrant or the appropriate court order required by law to fight terrorism?”