"Public, she speak with forked tongue" : Interpreting the Economist fieldwork on "Civil Liberties"

This week the Economist publishes an excellent article describing the ambivalent attitude of the British Public towards Civil Liberties and the Surveillance Society. It could be, but is not, summarised as: “We want to be looked after but do not trust the systems”.


Do read the article and then look at the fieldwork on which it is based.

There is strong support for more CCTV cameras – and interestingly David Davis’ complaint is that most of them are unmanned, out of order and do not provide material of evidential quality recording. They are therefore almost useless for crime prevention purposes.

There is a modest majority in favour of a DNA database covering the whole population, mainly because women are strongly in favour and men are less strongly against – presumably because so many of crimes resolved to date have involved sexual assaults.

There is a narrower, split over ID cards: again men against and women in favour. The exception is London, by far our most cosmopolitan City and the one most at rsik of terrorist attacks, which is strongly against. The Midlands, North and West are equally strongly in favour. This may therefore reflect views on ID cards as an immigation control.

There is a clear majority in favour of doctors being able to get the information they need to give the best possible care for patients. But this must be viewd in the context of a two to one vote against collecting more personal information in general:

“Improvments in efficiency and the quality of service provided outweigh the risks to privacy ”


“The risks to privacy outweigh improvements in efficiency and the quality of service provdied”


Don’t knows 16%

There is a very clear message for the ICT industry: the recent collapse of confidence in the security of big centralised databases has been such as to overcome the innate desire of much, perhaps most, of the electorate for service improvement.

That makes a compelling case for major systems suppliers to collectively support exercises to greatly improve information governance at every level. They face a lean time until the rebuilding of confidence that they and their customers can design, implement and operate trustworthy large systems – people processes at least as much as technology.

Hence the planned EURIM exercise for a high level exercise in the autumn to test whether there is indeed be the support to move from rhetoric to action with regard to information governance processes after the impending crop of reports on information security problems has been published.