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Public Policy and Administration


Patricia C. Ripoll


Since the implementation of the USA Patriot Act in October 2001, public trust in the U.S. federal government to protect individuals' right to privacy has been affected negatively. Many studies have addressed this topic, but few have delved deeply into the reasons behind the distrust. The purposes of this qualitative study were, to explore the perceptions and attitudes of U.S. citizens regarding the effect of the USA Patriot Act on their right to privacy, to determine whether a loss of trust in the government occurred, and to identify the factors contributing to the lack of trust. The theoretical foundation for this study was Rawl's Social Perspective of Public Trust, Sax's Augmentation of Social Contract Theory, and Ajzen's Theory of Planned Behavior. The central research question pertained to the views of U.S. citizens about the federal government's use of electronic surveillance to monitor their communication without their knowledge. A generic qualitative study design was employed using purposeful, semi-structured interviews of 20 purposely sampled adult male and female U.S. citizens. Data from the interviews were coded and categorized for thematic analysis. When confronted with the lesser known specifics of the electronic surveillance provision of the USA Patriot Act, participants were more likely to reject the government interference as an invasion of privacy. This study can provide guidance for the democratic basis of policymaking designed to protect U.S. citizens. The implication for social change includes providing information to policymakers of both the US and organizations of various sizes regarding the polarized views and lack of trust pertaining to electronic surveillance among U.S. public. This information can be used to implement program or campaign to foster trust.

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