Obama PRISM Scandal: Why Don't Americans Trust the Feds On Surveillance?


When we place our trust in someone, we expect that they will act reliably, openly and honestly and with competence, all in our best interests. 

Why the federal government’s lack of transparency is creating so much distrust is not just that it cannot be relied upon, but also because the public is doubting both its competence as well as whether government officials truly have the public's best interests at heart. In fact, some fact suspect that some officials are actually seeking to do harm to certain individuals who belong to certain groups, such as Tea Party organizations.

Even though we understand the need to keep our country safe in so many ways that we might not even be fully aware of, why does this broad data surveillance plant seeds of distrust?

We remember negative events more than positive events.

We value privacy, and when we find out after the fact that our privacy has been breached without our knowledge, this is a negative event

Distrust occurs over time, after repeated negative experiences.

The revelation of this breach comes after other negative events, such as the IRS scandal, Benghazi, and seizing reporter’s phone records, which only reinforce a lack of transparency.

We wonder if this violation of our trust was deliberate.

There is no clear accountability for who knew what, when.  

We now start to realize that this has happened repeatedly.

When people read about scandal after scandal, they come to realize that there is a pattern of behavior that tends to favor the government over its own people.

Finally, we have to start digging to figure out how severe the violation is.

We are not in a position to fully comprehend how much our freedom has been violated, nor how this will truly help us stay free and safe.  There is a fine balance between defending freedom and undermining it.

Syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer might be onto something when he said,

"The object is not to abolish these vital programs. It's to fix them. Not exactly easy to do amid the current state of national agitation — provoked largely because such intrusive programs require a measure of trust in government, and this administration has forfeited that trust amid an unfolding series of scandals and a basic problem with truth-telling."

The best way that our government can begin to rebuild trust with its people is to have an open debate about the best way to protect both our country and our freedoms.

Karen & Aneil Mishra are business school professors and authors of Becoming a Trustworthy Leader by Routledge Press (2013). They help leaders and teams improve their communication and collaboration skills, and focus on strengths and capabilities in order to enhance their creative capacity, cultures, and bottom lines.