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Americans split on feds listening in

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By other measures, American concerns about the proper balancing of civil liberties with national security have increased since the early post-9/11 period. Gallup, which regularly polls on civil liberties, found four months after the terror attacks that nearly half of Americans believed it was OK to violate basic civil liberties in the name of battling terrorism. But by September 2002, the numbers had shifted to where they are today. By a 2-to-1 margin, Americans believe the government should take steps to prevent terrorism, but not at the expense of civil liberties.

"It could reflect the return of people's traditional skepticism of federal power," says Karlyn Bowman, an expert on polling at the American Enterprise Institute, who says other surveys show the same trend. "Or perhaps as memories of 9/11 recede, they could just be thinking the government is going too far."

The debate over the future of the antiterror Patriot Act also reflects growing unease on the part of some Americans - including senators, both Republican and Democrat - over how individual rights are handled during wartime. When Congress reconvenes in January, both issues will return to the foreground. But it is the newly revealed eavesdropping program that has captured more public attention of late. The Senate Judiciary Committee plans to have hearings as soon as it finishes Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Samuel Alito.

Americans, meanwhile, are sorting through the eavesdropping question. Back at Balboa Park in San Diego, physician Franco Spano says he's having trouble figuring out where the truth really lies. "You hear the sound bites from both sides, but you need an objective source to really comment on it." Still, he says, "I'm suspicious," adding that sometimes "people's rights are taken away slowly ... purportedly, for a good reason."

Retired construction worker Robert Hobbs comes down on the president's side. "We have to stop terrorists when they start talking about doing something," Mr. Hobbs says from his wheelchair in the park, watching dogs run in a canine-friendly grassy area. "You need to get them then. You can't wait for a court order."

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