LONDON – 3rd February 2014 – A new poll by TNS shows that most people prioritise safeguarding security over the protection of peoples’ right to privacy.

A large majority (71%) think the government should “prioritise reducing the threat posed by terrorists and serious criminals even if this erodes peoples’ right to privacy”. Only 29% agree that the right to privacy should get priority “even if this limits the effort to track down terrorists and serious criminals”.

The poll of 1,195 adults in Great Britain shows over two thirds (66%) think that British intelligence agencies should be allowed to access and store the internet communications of criminals or terrorists. Only slightly fewer (64%) back them in carrying out this activity by monitoring the communications of the public at large.

Around half (51%) of adults are not concerned that British intelligence agencies are monitoring their online activities, but more than half are concerned by commercial companies doing so. A sizeable minority are concerned about “monitoring and collecting information about the activities that you do online” when this is carried out by UK agencies (43%) and US agencies (46%). However the number concerned about such data collection rises to 60% for social media sites and 55% for internet search engines. 

When asked about recent revelations in the media about British intelligence agencies collecting information in secret on who made and received telephone calls and internet communications, most people (66%) said they expected such surveillance to be in place, and only 22% were surprised that there is such a programme. Only 27% said that this surveillance is too intrusive and damages the right to privacy, though this rises to 36% among Labour voters compared to 13% of Conservative supporters.

However, 38% believe that recent revelations by Julian Assange and Edward Snowden about the extent of surveillance are justified “because only revelations like that keep the government in check,” against 34% saying they are likely to do more harm than good. 

Men (40%) are far more likely than women (29%) to say that the revelations are likely to do more harm than good. In general, younger people have a greater propensity than older people to give a higher priority to privacy: 82% of over-65s say they put security first, against 65% of 18-24s.

“There is much talk of a trust crisis and indeed there is one, in many public institutions and individuals,” said Dr Michelle Harrison, CEO of TNS BMRB.

“But when it comes to matters of public protection, there is still a feeling that government will act in the public interest”



Download the graphical summary of polling results here.

Notes to editors:

TNS Omnibus interviewed a representative sample of 1,195 adults in Great Britain between 23rd and 27th of January 2013. All interviews were conducted as online self-completion. The data is weighted to match population totals for age, sex, social grade, working status, presence of children, 2010 voting patterns and region. Detailed tables for this survey can be found here.

About TNS UK:

TNS UK advises clients on specific growth strategies around new market entry, innovation, brand switching and stakeholder management, based on long-established expertise and market-leading solutions. With a presence in over 80 countries, TNS has more conversations with the world’s consumers than anyone else and understands individual human behaviours and attitudes across every cultural, economic and political region of the world. TNS is part of Kantar, one of the world's largest insight, information and consultancy groups. Please visit for more information.