Queen's Surveillance Project benchmarks global attitudes about being watched

More Americans than Canadians (almost half) find anti-terrorism laws intrusive -- Queen's international surveillance survey finds

KINGSTON, Ont. -- Almost half of Canadians and even more Americans say they find new laws aimed at protecting national security post 9/11 intrusive.

That's just one of the wide-ranging findings of a survey on the surveillance and privacy attitudes and experiences of 9,000 people in eight countries initiated by the Queen's University-based Surveillance Project. The multi-disciplinary group is studying the Globalization of Personal Data (GPD) and the surveillance associated with that flow – by governments, employers, and via technologies like personal computers, biometrics and global-positioning systems – on ordinary people.

"We are seeing a high level of concern in many parts of the world about the intrusiveness of these post 9/11 laws. Fifty-seven per cent of Americans and 47 per cent of Canadians said that these laws are intrusive," says Elia Zureik, lead researcher. He went on to say, "these findings resonate with the recent Ontario Supreme Court ruling about the unconstitutionality of parts of Bill C-36, the anti-terrorism legislation in Canada."

This is believed to be the first cross-cultural study of its kind that explores relationships between attitudes and experiences, and how much people trust corporations and governments to handle personal information, including the sharing of such information with third parties, the researcher says.

Funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the survey included nearly 50 questions on participant's attitudes about issues like consumer surveillance, racial profiling at airports, national ID cards, media coverage of surveillance issues, workplace privacy, knowledge of privacy regulations, control over personal data and public trust in government.

The answers reveal a variety of cultural commonalities and differences culled from participants in Canada, the U.S., China, France, Spain, Hungary, Mexico and Brazil. Except for the survey in China, which was carried out by the Deputy Director of the Chinese Academy of the Social Sciences, the surveys were carried out by Ipsos Reid.

Highlights

Across the globe a majority of respondents:

  • believe surveillance laws are intrusive (U.S. 57 per cent, Canada 48 per cent, Spain 53 per cent, Mexico 46 per cent, Brazil 41 per cent, France 40 per cent).

  • worry about providing personal information on websites (China 54 per cent, Canada 66 per cent, Brazil 70 per cent, Spain 62 per cent and U.S. 60 per cent).

  • believe the use of closed circuit television deters in-store crime (Mexico 88 per cent, U.S. 80 per cent, Canada 79 per cent, France 73 per cent).

  • rejected out-right the premise that airport authorities should give extra security checks to visible minority passengers. About 60 per cent of Chinese, Hungarians, Brazilians, and Canadians but only a third of Americans found such practices unacceptable.

    Culturally distinctive survey findings include:

  • 63 per cent of Chinese respondents trust the government to protect the personal information it collects compared to just 48 per cent of Canadians and a mere 20 per cent of Brazilians say they trust their respective governments with their personal information.

  • While the majority of respondents do not believe that they have much say in what happens to their personal information – only roughly 30 per cent of Canadians, Americans, Spaniards and Hungarians felt they had complete or a lot of say – Chinese and French respondents felt otherwise, with 67 per cent and 60 per cent respectively reporting they feeling in control of the use their information.

  • Eighty-two percent of Canadians and 80 percent of Americans report themselves as being knowledgeable about the Internet compared to just 35 percent of Mexicans and 33 percent of Brazilian respondents.

"We have learned that there is an urgent need to educate the public about the complexities of the information age, to demand organizational and governmental accountability with regard to handling personal data, and to develop appropriate theory to explain and predict flows of personal data and to connect this with privacy ethics and government policy," Dr. Zureik says.

A team of international surveillance experts will meet at Queen's later this week to further study the data collected by survey.

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For more information on the Surveillance Project, an executive summary of the GPD survey findings or pdf version of the survey's Ipsos Reid report, go to:

http://www.queensu.ca/sociology/Surveillance/

To learn more about Research at Queen's http://www.queensu.ca/research/

Contact:

Lorinda Peterson, 613-533-3234, petersn@post.queensu.ca.

Attention broadcasters: Queen's now has facilities to provide broadcast quality audio and video feeds. For television interviews, we can provide a live, real-time double ender from Kingston.


Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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