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Comparitech.com survey shows overwhelming public support for Government surveillance

London, UK: A survey has shown that an overwhelming majority of the UK population (60%) believe that, when it comes to national security, the Government should be able to monitor mass communications. Conducted by OnePoll, on behalf of Comparitech.com - the security and privacy comparison and reviews website that helps consumers make informed decisions, the study found that 49 percent of the 1000 people questioned from the UK (nationally representative) cite national security as having more importance than an individual’s right to privacy. While 47% already believe the government intercepts their communications, 42% said they wouldn’t care if they did.

“Given the high profile spat between Apple and the FBI over the data held on the San Bernadino shooter’s iPhone, an individual’s right to privacy has once again been called into question,” said Richard Patterson, Director, Comparitech.com. “Tensions are high between the tech industry and Government, with many facets to the argument. However, while we wait for the final outcome from the current legal wrangling, for now it appears that public opinion is in favour of the UK Government snooping on its citizens in the interest of national security.”

Amar Singh, chair of ISACA UK security advisory group thinks that the results are worrying, particularly when “so many are willing to sacrifice their civil liberties and privacy for claims of protection. Let's not forget that no government has a stellar record in protecting their own information and if technologies are updated to allow "free access" for the government, then criminals will no doubt be able to obtain the same," he continued.

Digging a little deeper into the sentiments behind these positions, 77% of respondents believe the UK Government should be legally allowed to intercept communications that are related to terrorism, with 65% in agreement when to uncover criminal activity. And 44% approved that the Government should be able to intercept communications relating to tax evasion, while a parent with concerns about a child proved contentious as just 17% agreed that authorities could listen in. Amusingly, when it comes to ‘celebrity scandals’ just 2% said the Government should be allowed to eavesdrop!

“The results of this study are interesting, in that they confirm once again that the British public is more comfortable with being spied on by its own government than the peoples of, say, the US or Germany,” said Rik Turner, senior analyst at Ovum. “Leaving aside the historical and cultural explanations for this, the fact is that it puts “UK gov” in a better position to act against terror threats than many of its counterparts and, as such, means we should demand higher levels of efficacy from it in the war on terror. If the public is prepared to sacrifice its privacy in the name of protection from terrorism, the government can’t blame privacy laws for failing to detect a threat.”

Bob Tarzey, analyst and director, Quocirca said that the results did not surprise him that much. “First, that almost half the respondents are probably overestimating the amount of interest the government is already taking in their communications; it has currently far more limited access than they might imagine, both legally and practically,” he said. “Second that the majority are not that bothered anyway. Many feel they have little to hide and recognise the governments need to use communication data to monitor for threats. The practicality lies somewhere between individual privacy and government having sufficient access to data to protect its citizens. The drafters of the Investigatory Powers Bill need to work out where the line should be drawn.”

Patterson concluded, “While we wait to see the final outcomes of the Draft Investigatory Powers Bill here in the UK, and who will be victorious between the FBI and Apple, what is clear is that individuals need to understand that using electronic communications comes with provisos. On the one hand, laws designed to protect civil liberties shouldn’t then be used to provide a safe haven for those compelled to breach them and on the other, consumers shouldn’t have to give up their rights to privacy. It’s a thorny subject, with many grey areas, making clarity a necessity.”