WASHINGTON — In the past few months, the personal and financial information of millions of people has been stolen because of security lapses at retailers and universities.
For two examples, credit card numbers were hacked at Target and Social Security numbers were stolen at the University of Maryland.
The latest WTOP Beltway Poll takes a close look at two privacy concerns: security breaches that jeopardize personal and financial information, and federal government surveillance that could threaten privacy.
The majority of Washington-area residents surveyed say they are either extremely or highly concerned their personal financial information could be hacked.
Forty-seven percent say they’re highly concerned about the multiple security breaches nationwide; 28 percent are extremely concerned.
Because of the highly-publicized security breaches at big retailers and universities, a majority, 84 percent, say they are doing something to protect their personal data.
Sixty percent say they’ve changed account usernames and/or passwords.
Computer security software updates were in store for 59 percent, while 37 percent report using debit cards less often because of the potential for security breaches. Additionally, 33 percent signed up for identity- or credit-monitoring services.
Another element of the Beltway Poll reveals the area is sharply divided over the benefits and disadvantages of government surveillance.
Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden unmasked the sweep and depth of National Security Agency surveillance of Americans’ emails and phone calls.
The NSA program is designed to identify and track suspected terrorists, with the goal of averting any future attacks both in the U.S. and abroad.
Just more than half, 52 percent, of area residents say it’s worth it to give up some degree of personal privacy to protect against attacks. But 48 percent say protecting Americans’ emails and phone calls from government snooping outweighs any potential security benefits.
The WTOP Beltway Poll also reveals limited confidence that government won’t misuse the data it collects.
On a scale of 0-10, with 0 representing “absolutely no confidence,” the average confidence level of area residents is 4.3 that the government will use the information it collects only for intended purposes.
The Beltway Poll is conducted by Reston-based Heart and Mind Strategies in the past month and polled 607 people. There is a margin of error of 4 percent.