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December 24, 2013

Americans uneasy about surveillance but often use snooping tools

(Continued)

WASHINGTON —

Nearly seven in 10 Americans are concerned about how much personal information government agencies and private companies collect, the poll found. But among parents 40 or older — the group most likely to have teenagers — 70 percent said they monitor the websites their children visit. Many also review their kids' texts, emails and social-media use. A small number of Americans also report tracking the movements of their spouses or using video feeds to monitor elderly parents.

Northern Virginia tech entrepreneur Zachary Thompson, 30, is typical in disliking government surveillance but embracing similar tools in his own life. Thompson, who owns an Internet service provider, YellowFiber Networks, has had to respond to federal court orders to hand over user data. "It sucks, to be blunt, because there's nothing you can do," he said.

But when it comes to his daughter — not yet 2 years old — he already plans to track her in a way that parents a generation ago could hardly have imagined. He and others said a parent's relationship with a child is fundamentally different from a government's with its citizens.

"I fully anticipate when she comes of age putting up a fire wall and monitoring everything she does," he said. "That's a parent's responsibility."

In Ashburn, the sprawling Northern Virginia suburb where development was supercharged by Loudoun County's 1990s tech boom, massive data centers — the guts of the Internet — have replaced farms along rolling, formerly rural roads. People in Ashburn have lived and worked with the Internet since it first became widely used, yet even here, in townhouse communities and estate home developments built hard by the data centers, residents wrestle with how to distinguish between useful surveillance and unacceptable intrusions — by the NSA, by private companies and by family members.

Attitudes toward surveillance often vary depending on who is doing it and how clear the purpose is. Beliveau, for example, does not mind the tracking the government does to sniff out potential terrorists, because she believes innocent people have nothing to fear.

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