An exploration of Australian attitudes towards privacy
Information and Computer Security
School of Science / Security Research Institute
Using technology to meet national security expectations and requirements is not new. Nations attempt to strike a balance between security and the (expressed or otherwise) privacy needs of citizens. Attacks (physical or cyber) on citizens shift the equilibrium point towards security. In contrast, civil liberties organisations act to preserve or increase privacy. The purpose of this paper is to explore Australian attitudes towards privacy and surveillance during the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, this paper aims to discover what (if any) factors contribute to societal acceptance of privacy encroachment implicated by surveillance programs.
Data collection occurred during 2021 using a cross-sectional survey comprising a variety of self-assessment questions. In addition, anchoring vignettes were introduced as a means of contextualising complex concepts, i.e. privacy and security. Finally, latent class analysis (LCA) was used to identify homogenous patterns within the data, referred to as “classes” for the analysis of trust.
First, the survey revealed that citizens appear to be unconcerned about surveillance in public and private spaces (although this may be a temporary effect resulting from the pandemic). The potential for identification, however, does raise concerns. Second, LCA surfaced a specific group that were more likely to trust entities and showed less concern about surveillance in society. Finally, even this latter group displayed a “trust deficit” in specific organisations (private businesses and social media firms).
Research limitations/practical implications:
The tension between security and privacy remains, even in a post-pandemic world; therefore, the authors consider that the results, whilst interesting, are preliminary. Notwithstanding this, the findings provide insight into Australian attitudes towards privacy and surveillance and, consequently, provide input into public policy.
This is the most recent survey of the Australian public concerning this issue. The analysis of the effect of the pandemic on attitudes provides further value.