Attitudes On Government Surveillance

What are people’s opinions on Internet-safety legislation?

Our Research Projects

2 minutes

In 2022, the EU has confirmed legislation mandating the implementation of chat control to help fight online child abuse. This has been met with public controversy. We were able to show that, for a general population sample from Germany, trust in physical entities (like law enforcement agencies) impacts the trust that the general population has in digital measures, even on occasion superseding concerns about the potential danger to individual privacy that such technology represents.

We conducted a survey with a representative sample of the German population, in which we asked participants to rate their acceptance of proposed technical measures for the automatic detection of criminal activity in different scenarios. We changed several variables to test their influence on the participants’ attitudes. We varied what type of data would be scanned (images or text messages), on what kind of medium (smartphones or cloud storage), and who would be processing the data in case of a positive match (a private company or a government agency). We also asked participants to rate their trust in the German government. We found in this survey that, in general, participants were willing to allow detection mechanisms of this kind, even at the detriment of their own privacy, if they were set in place to act against severe crimes like child abuse or terrorism. Acceptance declined when the detection measures were set against crimes or misdemeanors like trafficking or using drugs. Furthermore, participants were more likely to accept the measures if the institution processing the data was a government institution than a private company. The level of trust in the government that participants reported correlated statistically significantly with the likelihood of their acceptance.

This research was published at the IEEE Security and Privacy in May of this year (see our Publications). Based on our results and feedback we received, we are currently in the process of conducting additional surveys in other countries, such as the US, to get an idea of the influence of cultural differences.

Additionally, we are conducting an interview study aimed at experts in the field of IT security.

Read More #

  • The IEEE S&P publication is available here.

Project Members #

  • Lisa Geierhaas (University of Bonn)
  • Matthew Smith (University of Bonn)