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Oct 8, 2013

Essential: voters hostile to US surveillance

We're growing more sceptical of the data collection by social media platforms and the surveillance activities of foreign governments, polling from Essential finds.

Bernard Keane — Politics Editor

Bernard Keane

Politics Editor

Australians strongly oppose the United States government’s mass surveillance programs and more of us see the US government as a bigger internet threat than China, new polling from Essential Research reveals.

Some 45% of Australians oppose the US government’s secret internet and telephone surveillance programs revealed by Edward Snowden, compared to 24% who support them. That includes 25% of voters who “strongly oppose” the surveillance. And 45% of people reject the justification for such surveillance — that it is necessary for national security and the fight against terrorism — compared to 42% who agree with it. Coalition voters are more likely to support surveillance and its rationale than Labor and Greens voters.

Social media companies fare worst in terms of privacy protection, with 57% of Australians saying they have no trust in Facebook to protect their privacy, and 55% saying they have no trust in Twitter; older voters tended to have even less trust in social media than younger voters. Around 43% of Australians say they have no trust in the US government to protect their privacy, more even than Google, which has been found to have been complicit in the National Security Agency’s internet surveillance programs.

Half of Australians, however, have some or a lot of trust in their internet service provide to protect their privacy — more than their trust in the Australian government.

There is very strong support for requiring companies that provide services to Australians to tell them what information they have provided to foreign governments — 73% to 16% opposition — including 39% who strongly agree with such a requirement. That requirement was mooted during the election campaign by the Greens’ Scott Ludlam, who called for a requirement that companies providing carriage or carriage service providers publicly reveal what agreements they have to provide information to foreign governments.

Asked about what the biggest threat to internet security is, 39% said hackers, 26% said organised crime, 11% said the US government and 7% said the Chinese government — an interesting outcome despite efforts by the mainstream media, and particularly The Australian Financial Review and the ABC, to hype the cyber threat of China.

And a third of Australians want us to have a closer relationship with China, with only New Zealand (on 34%) rated higher as a country we should be closer to. Indonesia was seen by 29% of voters as a country we should become closer to. The United Kingdom and the US were on 22% and 20% respectively. Our relationship with China was seen as “very important” by 46% of voters, compared to 51% for the US and 56% for New Zealand, Indonesia by 35% and the UK by 42%.

On voting intention, the Coalition is on 43%, Labor on 35% (down one), the Greens and “others” on 9% and 12% respectively. The two-party preferred result shakes out to 52-48%, unchanged since last week.

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