National security 'more important' than privacy

Personal data security is second to national security. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)
Personal data security is second to national security. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)

Cape Town – South Africans agree with a majority of global citizens that personal privacy should take second place to national security, an international survey has shown.

According to a global survey of 24 143 people commissioned by the Centre for International Governance Innovation (Cigi), 70% agreed that law enforcement authorities should have the right to access online communications of citizens, with that number climbing to 85% where a person is suspected of a crime.

The survey was conducted by research firm Ipsos and comes as tech giant Apple is battling the FBI over data access to an iPhone used by the San Bernardino shooters who killed 14 people.

“The findings in this survey shine an important light on the nexus between trust, national security, and privacy in the increasingly dark and ungoverned space of the internet,” said Fen Hampson, director of Cigi’s Global Security and Politics Programme and co-director of the Global Commission on Internet Governance.

A US judge on Monday ruled that the US government cannot force Apple to unlock the iPhone, though the FBI has said it would appeal.

Encryption technologies

READ: US can't force Apple to provide iPhone data - judge

Apple has received support for its position from Facebook, Google and the American Civil Liberties Union.

The survey found that 63% of internet users feel that companies should not develop technologies that prevent authorities from accessing user online content.

African citizens of Nigeria and Tunisia were most likely (95% and 93% respectively) to agree with the position that if someone is suspected of a crime, law enforcement should be able to access data on who they are communicating with. People in South Korea (67%) and Japan (70%) were the most likely to disagree with that position.

Encryption technologies have emerged as a way to prevent unauthorised access of personal data.

READ: 10 tips to stay anonymous online

On the question of whether companies should actively develop technology to block law enforcement from access to personal data, people in China and India (74%) were most likely to agree, while those in South Korea (46%) were least likely to agree.

“Public attention today is focused on national security and digital privacy. When it comes to national security, Americans and Canadians, as well as global citizens from 24 countries, believe that digital privacy considerations come secondary to their own government’s pursuit of keeping their home country safe,” said Darrell Bricker, chief executive of Ipsos Public Affairs.

In addition to SA, the survey was carried out in Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Egypt, France, Germany, the UK, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Poland, South Korea, Sweden, Tunisia, Turkey and the US.

Do you trust national security agents with access to your personal data? Let us know


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