Attacks changed public opinion on privacy

Champaign County plans Sept. 11 memorial events today.

Public opinion has consistently favored protection from terrorism over civil liberties since shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, yet Americans also have expressed concerns about government overreach and intrusions on their privacy, research shows.

Fifty percent of Americans approve of the government’s collection of telephone and Internet data as part of federal anti-terrorism efforts, while 44 percent disapprove, according to a national survey conducted in July by the Pew Research Center.

But many were shocked by recent revelations about how the National Security Agency accessed the personal telephone, email and Internet data of millions of U.S. residents. Some Americans fear the government is going too far.

Twelve years ago today, nearly 3,000 people were killed in coordinated terrorist attacks carried out by the Islamist extremist group al-Qaeda.

Locally today, several Champaign County veterans organizations will honor victims, first responders and members of the military during a ceremony at Freedom Grove Memorial Park on U.S. 68. Events will continue throughout most of the day, said Craig Bennett, commander of the Urbana Chapter of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

At 8 a.m., an American flag will be raised at half-mast to begin the ceremonies. Urbana’s Freedom Grove is highlighted from a 12-foot steel beam that was recovered from the World Trade Center. The flag that will fly Wednesday was initially used to cover the beam as it was delivered to Champaign County, Bennett said.

Along with guest speakers, Wednesday morning’s activities will include several moments of silence, honoring those who died when each building collapsed or each plane crashed on Sept. 11. In between the moments of silence, local veterans organizations will present 60th anniversary medals to area veterans who served in the Korean War.

After a lunch for veterans and first responders at Heartland of Urbana, activities will resume at Freedom Grove at 6 p.m., Bennett said. Those events will include a Purple Heart Dedication ceremony, and local boy scouts will lay a wreath at the foot of the steel beam at 7 p.m.

A group of 19 terrorists hijacked four commercial airplanes and deliberately crashed two of them into the north and south towers of the World Trade Center. They later crashed a third plane into the Pentagon in Arlington, Va. Passengers on the fourth plane fought back, and the plane was crashed into an empty field in western Pennsylvania.

The attacks led the U.S. to fight extended wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Americans had a “palpable sense of insecurity” in the wake of 9/11 and “leaned hard to the security side and put certain concerns about liberty on a shelf for a while,” said Patrick Haney, a professor and interim chair of Miami University’s Department of Political Science.

Over time, public opinion has swung back to a more balanced view, as evidenced by the recent Pew Research figures, Haney said. The Edward Snowden case and NSA disclosures have led some people to “perhaps even be sharply critical of some of these moves,” he said.

Fifty-six percent of Americans said that federal courts fail to provide adequate limits on the telephone and Internet data the government is collecting as part of its anti-terrorism efforts, according to the Pew Research survey. In addition, 70 percent believe the government uses this data for purposes other than investigating terrorism.

“The tide seems to be turning right now with, I think, a healthy dose of skepticism about whether you really want the power of the state to be monitoring this kind of behavior,” Haney said.

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