A new Ipsos MORI poll for The Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust finds that Britons support the police and intelligence agencies accessing data about personal electronic communications in certain circumstances (when that person is a suspect), but that a senior judge and not politicians or parliament should decide when surveillance is appropriate.
Almost half (48%) of the public feel that a senior judge in a court of law should be responsible for approving requests from police and UK intelligence agencies to collect and look at the electronic communications or private individuals. A fifth (20%) feel these should be approved by a senior authorised officer within the police force or agency seeking the permission and 15% a government minister.
Similarly a third (32%) say that a senior judge in court should set limits on the powers UK intelligence agencies have to collect communications data from the general population, with 22% saying this should be the job of parliament.
The public are most confident in the ability of a senior judge in a court of law to hold the UK intelligence agencies to account (75%) with around two fifths being confident in the ability of the Prime Minister or other government ministers to do this job (both 44%).
Two fifths say they have confidence in the current system of a committee of politicians to hold the intelligence agencies to account. The same proportion (41%) say they have confidence when told that the committee is appointed by and reports to the Prime Minister, with the Prime Minister having final say over what can be published in the committee’s reports.
The majority support allowing the police and UK intelligence agencies to access information about personal communications for types of criminal activity where that person is a suspect in the case, rising from 61% supporting this for minor crimes to 88% who say this should be allowed in terrorism investigations or situations where there is a criminal threat to life.
There is less support for allowing the police and UK intelligence agencies access to information about personal communications where that person is not a suspect, with majority support for this only in the case of a terrorism investigation or situation where there is a criminal threat to life (54%), compared with only 22% who think this should be allowed in a minor crime investigation when that person is not a suspect.
Maintaining the privacy of personal financial records, such as bank statements, pension and savings was seen as essential or very important by 93% of the public, with the privacy of medical records and the content of post also essential or very important for the vast majority (both 82%).
The majority (55%) say they are confident that Government departments and public services will protect their personal information, with two fifths (41%) feeling this is true of web-based email services, and 38% that their personal data will be protected by private companies.
Overall, two fifths think that the current balance between privacy and security is currently about right (40%), with more saying that the balance is too much in favour of security (25%) than feel it is too much in favour of privacy (12%).
There is little appetite for data sharing among Government bodies, with 63% disagreeing that if a government department or other public body holds some data about you, other government departments and public bodies should have access to that information, and less than a fifth (18%) agreeing.
Similarly, just under half (45%) say that the government should never be allowed to share data they have about you with private companies, with around a quarter (26%) saying they should do this only if you opt in to data sharing and one in eight (12%) that they should be allowed to do so as long as you do not opt out.
The public are even less likely to want to see the government selling personal data to private companies, with 67% saying this should never be the case.
There is also opposition to the government and private companies storing and processing data outside of the UK, with 69% saying that they would oppose the Government doing this and 77% saying that private companies should not store or process data outside of the UK.
- Topline results are based on 1,958 responses to the Ipsos MORI face-to-face Omnibus.
- Respondents are British adults aged 15+.
- Fieldwork took place face-to-face between 25 April-3 May 2014.
- The survey data were weighted to be nationally representative of GB adults.
- An * denotes a percentage which is greater than 0 but less than 0.5.
- Where responses do not sum to 100% this is either because the question was multi response or due to percentage rounding.