Australians don’t trust either the government or communications companies to store their personal data safely and oppose the use of metadata to pursue file sharers, today’s Essential Report shows.

The government is currently pushing for a mass surveillance scheme in which personal communications data would be retained for two years by communications companies and accessible without a warrant by security agencies. Those agencies are the most trusted to store data safely, with 53% of voters having some (36%) or a lot (17% — the difference is rounding) of trust in security agencies storing personal data safely. However, telecommunications companies and ISPs aren’t trusted to safely store data: 63% of Australians have little or not trust that they will store data securely, while just 32% have some or a lot of trust they will. Nor is the government outside security agencies trusted (54% versus 42%), and there’s minimal trust in other private companies, 70%-20%.

Since August, voters have come around to the government’s argument that it needs access to metadata to protect society — support for that view has increased from 37% to 41%, while support for the view that collection of personal data is dangerous has fallen from 49% to 44%. However, voters oppose the use of data retention to target file sharers. Australian Federal Police Commissioner Andrew Colvin has said that the AFP would use data retention to pursue “illegal downloaders” despite governments efforts to claim it would only be used for serious crime and terrorism. Some 47% of voters oppose that, compared to 34% who support it, with the elderly and Liberal voters keen for the AFP to use its resources to pursue people downloading Game of Thrones et al.

There are also major differences between age groups and genders over communication with friends and family. Older people are more likely to rely on landline phones, while they are barely used at all by younger people. Older people use mobile phones and Facebook less, and text far less than younger people, while women text and use Facebook more than men. A quarter of all voters say their use of landlines has decreased a lot in the last two years, and 32% say their use of letters has decreased a lot, while use of mobiles and texting has increased a lot for 16%/18% of people.

Meanwhile Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s approval rating has slipped just slightly, down a point to 39%, while disapproval has edged up two points to 50% — not enough to erase the gains he made in October. He continues to be significantly more unpopular with women (-16) than men (-5). Opposition Leader Bill Shorten’s ratings haven’t shifted much either — approval is up 2 points to 37% but so is disapproval, to 38%; Shorten’s net disapproval rating (-1) has been the same since September. Abbott still leads as preferred PM, though, 36% to 34%, down from 38% to 32% last month. Men prefer Abbott 40%-33% while women prefer Shorten, 36% to 32%.

On voting intention, no change: Coalition on 40%, Labor on 38%, Greens on 10%, Palmer United on 4%, the rest 9% (one up, actually — rounding, again) for a two-party preferred outcome of 52%-48% for Labor.

Peter Fray

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