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Survey: Americans Divided on Government Surveillance

Americans are divided over the U.S. government's surveillance practices that infringe on citizens’ privacy, an NBC News online survey found.
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Americans are divided over whether or not the U.S. government has gone too far in using surveillance practices that infringe on citizens’ privacy, an NBC News online survey found.

While 38 percent of Americans say the government’s surveillance program has gone too far in infringing on people’s privacy, 35 percent say the government’s program has been relatively balanced between privacy concerns and fighting terrorism. Another one in four Americans say the U.S. surveillance program has been too restrained in its efforts to combat terrorists, according to the survey which was conducted online by SurveyMonkey from June 3-5.

Related: Barack Obama Signs 'USA Freedom Act" to Reform NSA Surveillance

A heated congressional showdown over the "USA Freedom Act" which moves the storage of bulk telephone metadata used by the National Security Agency to telecom companies rather than the government has renewed the public debate over surveillance tactics in recent weeks. President Barack Obama signed the act into law last week.

The fight over civil liberties has made strange political bedfellows and united factions on the left and right ends of the ideological spectrum who are both skeptical of an overreaching government in a post-9/11 era.

Independents are slightly more likely to see the government as intrusive – 44 percent say that the government has gone too far, compared to 38 percent of Democrats and 28 percent of Republicans.

Among those who support the Tea Party, 36 percent say the government has overstepped its bounds, a point echoed by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, who has been heavily campaigning for president on his stand against extending the bulk collection program.

Still, most Americans are not personally concerned about the U.S. government monitoring their own phone calls and internet activity – 6 in 10 say they are “a little” or “not at all” concerned. Still, a sizable 4 in 10 say they are “somewhat” or “very” concerned.

Related: Expiration Date: What's Next for the Patriot Act?

But when it comes to who collects and stores their data, Americans generally do not trust the private sector to safeguard their information any more than the government.

A slim majority of Americans – 53 percent - say they trust neither government agencies nor businesses like cellular telephone companies and internet providers to keep records of their phone calls or internet activity secure. Slightly more trust private business over government agencies – 21 percent to 11 percent, while another 14 percent trust both equally.

Republicans put somewhat more trust in business than do Democrats or independents, while independents have the lowest trust in government agencies and the most distrust in both businesses and government to keep their records private overall.

The NBC News Online Survey was conducted among a national sample of 2,153 adults aged 18 and over. Respondents for this non-probability survey were selected from among those who have volunteered to participate in the SurveyMonkey Audience panel.

Results have an error estimate of plus or minus 3.0 percentage points. A full description of our methodology can be found here.

The survey was produced by the Analytics Unit of NBC News in conjunction with Penn's Program on Opinion Research and Election Studies with data collection and tabulation conducted by SurveyMonkey. Analysis by the University of Pennsylvania's Program on Opinion Research and Election Studies.