Thursday, November 19, 2015
Edward Snowden’s revelations in June 2013 prompted major debates around the topics of privacy, national security, and mass digital surveillance. Within these debates, the British government and its intelligence agencies regularly invoke British public opinion as:
a) desiring greater security, and;
b) probably being prepared to give up privacy to enhance security.
But what does the public actually think on privacy, security and the Snowden leaks? Is the public prepared to give up privacy for security?
To answer these questions, this report draws on the following studies:
- The ongoing Digital Citizenship and Surveillance Society Project (DCSS) at Cardiff University into UK public opinion on the Snowden leaks, comprising analysis of opinion polls and in-depth focus groups with different demographics of the public in England and Wales.
- The published in-depth, participatory study, Surveillance, Privacy and Security (SurPRISE), of 2000 citizens from nine European countries (Austria, Denmark, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Norway, Spain, Switzerland and United Kingdom) on attitudes towards surveillance-oriented security technologies and privacy (Pavone et al. 2015).
- Published advertising industry studies (opinion polls) on privacy and commercial surveillance.
Synthesising these studies, we provide the following observations and recommendations.
2. The topics of UK state surveillance of digital communications and online privacy matter to the British, and wider EU public. This is confirmed by opinion poll data since 2013 and in-depth studies.
3. The EU and UK public think some surveillance technologies are useful/effective for combating national security threats, and should be used, but acceptability varies according to whether the surveillance is of communications or bodies, and blanket or targeted. Surveillance of physical bodies (smart CCTV) and targeted surveillance of digital communications (smartphone location tracking) are more accepted than blanket surveillance of digital communications (deep packet inspection).
4. The EU and UK public think that although certain surveillance technologies are useful/effective for combating national security threats, they compromise human rights and are abused by security agencies. These concerns especially apply to deep packet inspection.
5. In the UK, those under 60 see UK state surveillance of digital communications as going too far, and an infringement upon the right to privacy. Over 60s do not. This finding is echoed by EU-wide studies.
8. All age groups in the UK, especially those over 55, are strongly concerned about commercial surveillance, and increasingly take concrete steps to defend against intrusive behaviour by advertising companies. This suggests that if people could do more about state surveillance, they would.
9. There are a range of tools and behaviour change open to people to defend against state surveillance.
1. Given Observation 1, the UK government has more work to do if it wants to persuade the British public that Bulk Data Collection is different to mass digital surveillance.
2. Given Observation 2, the UK government should take into consideration public views on digital surveillance and privacy.
3. Given Observation 3, the UK government has a public mandate to use some surveillance technologies for combating national security threats. However this mandate is much weaker for blanket surveillance of digital communications (deep packet inspection) than more targeted surveillance of digital communications (smartphone location tracking) or surveillance of physical bodies (Smart CCTV).
4. Observation 4 shows that the UK government has more work to do if it wants to persuade the British public that its security agencies do not abuse their surveillance powers, especially concerning deep packet inspection. Observations 5 and 6 show that the least persuaded are those under 60 and ethnic minorities.
5. Given observation 7, governments seeking a popular mandate for digital surveillance should ensure that such surveillance is targeted rather than blanket, accompanied by strong regulatory oversight and clear communications to citizens about what is going on.
6. Given public concerns over blanket digital surveillance, observation 8 which shows people taking increasing action against commercial digital surveillance, and observation 9 which shows that there are things people can use and do to mitigate state surveillance, this suggests that unless the UK government provides a digital surveillance architecture that is acceptable to its people, it is quite possible that people will refuse this surveillance.
See Vian Bakir, Jonathan Cable, Lina Dencik, Arne Hintz, Andrew McStay. (November 2015). Public Feeling on Privacy, Security and Surveillance: A Report by DATA-PSST and DCSS. ESRC