UK divided on government role in cyberspace, survey shows

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UK divided on government role in cyberspace, survey shows

Warwick Ashford

UK citizens are divided on the role of government in cyber space, a survey by business consultancy KPMG and Censuswide has revealed.

While 76% of respondents said government needs to do more to protect their online privacy, and 55% said government should be responsible for keeping the internet running, 54% said the government should not interfere with the operation of the internet.

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“Our survey reveals the inherent battle between the rights of citizens and the need for government to uphold the law in this increasingly digital age,” said Giles Watkins, partner for KPMG’s cyber security practice.

“People support the government in some ways, but not in others,” he said.

According to Watkins, this demonstrates the need for governments to work with the public in terms of communicating as far as possible where threats lie, while also encouraging their citizens to take action where they can to protect themselves.

The poll also revealed that 49% of respondents felt their freedom of speech was inhibited because they knew they were being monitored online.

Some 59% felt libel laws would curtail free speech in cyber space, and 58% agreed that freedom of speech might not even exist in the virtual world.

Most of those polled said government should be better prepared for cyber warfare, while 58% want to see the government do more to fight the growing threat of cyber crime.

In particular, 60% argued that cross-border collaboration was needed with other governments to effectively fight against cyber crime in general, rather than individual countries acting alone.

“Governments need to be able to protect citizens against the ever increasing threat to national and private security,” said Watkins.

“However, to do this requires a careful approach where digital users are aware of the rationale when governments take tougher action on cyber breaches,” he said.

Watkins said that governments need to work with the public to identify, tackle and mitigate threats. “We are all vulnerable and therefore all responsible,” he said.

The research findings come amid renewed calls for UK laws governing internet surveillance to be reviewed and tightened in the light of revelations of a secret government policy justifying mass surveillance of UK users of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Google.

Charles Farr, director general of the Office for Security and Counter Terrorism, said in a witness statement that the surveillance is permitted under the law because communications via US-based online services are defined as “external communications” and therefore do not fall under the restrictions of the  Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa).

Farr is the UK government’s first witness in a case brought by Privacy Interantional and several other rights groups that will be heard by the Investigatory Powers Tribunal between 14 and 18 July 2014.

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