NSA and Snowden: Canadians, Terrorism and Online Privacy

Canadians Willing to Give Up Some Privacy to Prevent Terrorism; Few think Snowden should be prosecuted.

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According to a new survey from Abacus Data, most Canadians would support giving up some personal privacy if it helped investigations into possible terrorist threats but most do not think the government should be able to monitor everyone’s online activities.

Specifically related to the events surrounding Edward Snowden’s leaking of information about the U.S. Government’s efforts at collecting information about telephone calls, e-mails and other online communications as part of efforts to monitor terrorist activity, most Canadians do not consider Snowden a traitor and only one in four believe he should be prosecuted for breaking U.S. laws.

Throughout this report, we reference results from a Pew Research Center study in which we replicated some of the questions asked in that survey.  The Pew survey was conducted from June 6 to 9, 2013[1].

In contrast to Americans, our survey finds that Canadians are less likely to be following the NSA/Snowden story closely and fewer Canadians support allowing government to monitor everyone’s email and other online activities if officials say this might prevent future terrorist attacks.

Half of Canadians Following NSA News “Very Closely” or “Fairly Closely”

Almost half (49%) of all Canadians said that they were following news stories about the NSA collecting telephone records fairly or very closely. Just less than a third of respondents (29%) said that they had not been following the story too closely, where the remainder of respondents 22% said they were not following the story at all.

Those living in Ontario (58%) and those with a university degree or higher (61%) were more likely to say they are following news of the story very closely or fairly closely.

Not surprisingly, Americans are more likely to say they are following the story very closely than Canadians.

With most news stories, interest is higher among older Canadians, and lower among younger Canadians. In this case, news stories are being followed as closely by younger Canadians as older Canadians indicating this issue is of particular interest to younger Canadians who spend far more time online.  Throughout the report we report the difference in attitudes between age groups.

Snowden: A whistleblower, not a traitor, according to Canadians

Canadian respondents in the Abacus Data survey who followed at least some news on the NSA leak story were asked whether they considered Edward Snowden a traitor or a whistleblower.  Overall sixty per cent (60%) considered Edward Snowden a whistleblower whereas 15% consider him a traitor. Still another one in four respondents (26%) said that they would describe his as neither a traitor nor a whistleblower.

There was little variation across demographic, regional, or political groups on whether a respondent considered Snowden a whistleblower or a traitor.

Keeping this result in mind, it is not surprising that only one in four Canadians (23%) believed that Snowden should be prosecuted for breaking U.S. laws.  Forty-three percent believed that he should not be prosecuted while 34% were unsure.  Once again, there was little variation across subgroups.

Privacy vs. Online Security

The next set of questions  were meant to replicate the questions asked in the study of American attitudes towards the issue by the Pew Research  Center.

In Canada, six in ten Canadians (62%) who have been following the story to some extent (n=782) believed that it was more important for the federal government to investigate possible terrorist threats, even if that intrudes on personal privacy.  This is same result found by Pew in its study of U.S. public opinion.

In contrast, thirty-eight percent of respondents believed it was more important for the federal government not to intrude on personal privacy, even if that limits its ability to investigate possible terrorist threats.

There was a large generational difference in the Abacus Data survey.  Canadians aged 18 to 44 were far more split on what was more important with about half believing that government should not intrude on personal privacy, even if that limits its ability to investigate possible terrorist threats.  Younger Canadians are far more concerned about protecting their privacy than older Canadians who are more likely to support intrusions if it helps prevent terror attacks.

What do you think is more important now?

Response

All Respondents following the news story
(n=782)

CPC
Supporters
(n=165)

LPC
Supporters
(n=197)

NDP
Supporters
(n=175)

For the federal government to investigate possible terrorist threats, even if that intrudes on personal privacy

62%

70%

65%

51%

For the federal government not to intrude on personal privacy, even if that limits its ability to investigate possible terrorist threats

38%

30%

35%

49%

 

There was a similar relationship between views on privacy vis-a-vis terrorism and political party support in Canada.  Conservative Party and Liberal Party supporters were more likely to think it is important for the government to investigate terrorist threats, even if that intrudes on personal privacy while NDP and BQ supporters were more likely to favour protecting personal privacy.

Should the Government Be Able to Monitor Everyone’s Email and Other Online Activities

Only one in three Canadians (33%) who followed the NSA story to some extent believed that the Canadian government should be able to monitor everyone’s email and other online activities if officials say this might prevent future terrorist attacks while 48% believed they should not be able to monitor people’s online activities.  Nineteen percent were unsure.

Once again, there was a significant relationship between age group and support for monitoring everyone’s online activity.  Only 15% of Canadians aged 18 to 29 believed that the Canadian government should monitor online activities if officials say it might prevent future terrorist attacks compared with 34% of those aged 30 to 44 and 43% for those aged 45 to 59.

Canadian Millennials would likely be the most opposed to a program that monitors all online activity in Canada.

According to the Pew Research study, Americans were more closely divided with 45% believing that the US government should be able to monitor online activities and 52% believing they should not be allowed to.

Bottom Line

The results of this survey are somewhat confounding.

On the one hand, a majority of Canadians believe that it is more important for the federal government to investigate possible terrorist threats, even if that intrudes on personal privacy than for the government to not intrude on personal privacy.

On the other hand, almost a majority oppose the idea mass monitoring of online activity even if officials say this might prevent future terrorist attacks.

In other words, Canadians would welcome targeted online surveillance of suspected terrorist threats but would oppose a broader program of online surveillance.  This is especially true of younger Canadians who spend far more time online.

When it comes to Edward Snowden and his leaking of classified information about the NSA’s surveillance program, most Canadians who have been following the story to some extent would describe him as a whistleblower, and not a traitor.  Moreover, only 23% believe he should be prosecuted for breaking U.S. laws.



[1] The analysis in this report is based on telephone interviews conducted June 6-9, 2013, among a national sample of 1,004 adults 18 years of age or older living in the continental United States (501 respondents were interviewed on a landline telephone, and 503 were interviewed on a cell phone, including 247 who had no landline telephone). The survey was conducted by interviewers at Princeton Data Source under the direction of Princeton Survey Research Associates International. For detailed survey methodology see http://people-press.org/methodology/.

Methodology

The survey was conducted online with 999 respondents in English and French using an internet survey programmed and collected by Abacus Data. A random sample of panelists was invited to participate in the survey from a representative panel of Canadians.  The survey was completed from June 19 to 23, 2013.

Since the online survey was not a random, probability based sample, a margin of error could not be calculated.   The Marketing Research and Intelligence Association prohibits statements about margins of sampling error or population estimates with regard to most online panels.

The margin of error for a probability-based random sample of 999 respondents using a probability sample is +/- 3.1%, 19 times out of 20.

The data was weighted according to census data to ensure that the sample matched Canada’s population according to age, gender, education level, and region.

These questions were posed as part of the Abacus Data monthly Omnibus survey. 

David Coletto is CEO of Abacus Data and leads its Public Affairs research practice. He has a PhD from the University of Calgary and is an adjunct professor at Carleton University.  He’s an avid road cyclist.

Contact David Coletto:

T: 613-232-2806 x. 248

E: david@abacusdata.ca

W: http://www.abacusdata.ca

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