Little appetite for scaling back surveillance

October 13, 2013, 8:00 AM GMT+0

Only 19% of the public think that the British security services should cut back their surveillance powers – and they tend to believe recent leaks about them are a bad thing

Leaks by former CIA employee Edward Snowden have this week been described as “the worst blow to British intelligence ever”, as the Director-General of MI5 claimed to have evidence the leaks have already caused serious harm to operations against terrorist groups.

But while there has also been widespread distress over the content of the leaks, which disclosed that the Government Communications Headquarters were able to monitor the details of ordinary people’s emails and mobile phone calls, YouGov finds little public support for scaling back the surveillance state.

Only 19% of British Adults say the British Security Services have too many powers, which should be cut back. The largest group, 42%, say the current balance is about right, and 22% say they do not have enough powers.

Regarding the leaks themselves, 43% say they are a bad thing which aid Britain’s enemies. 35% say the leaks are a good thing which hold the security services to account. 7% say they are neither good nor bad and 15% don’t know.

Liberal Democrat Business Secretary Vince Cable has said that the Guardian, who published Snowden’s leaks, were “entirely correct and right” to do so, and suggested Britain did not have proper oversight of MI5.

Voters do tend to oppose the surveillance practices exposed by the leaks. 46% think the security sevices should not be allowed to store the details (but not the actual contents) of ordinary people's communications, such as emails and phone calls; 38% believe the practice should be allowed.

28% say Members of Parliament have about the right amount of power to scrutinise the activities of the security services. 26% say they have too few, and 16% say they have too many. 29% don’t know.

In disagreement with his Cabinet colleague Vince Cable, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has said that what the Guardian did was “not good at all” and that the leaked information could “help terrorists”. David Cameron has also dismissed calls for a review into the oversight of intelligence agencies, claiming, "if people want to suggest improvements about how they are governed and looked after I am very happy to listen to them, but as far as I can see we have a very good system."

Image: Getty

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