State surveillance: How much is too much?

When former US intelligence worker Edward Snowden blew the lid on America's covert surveillance program in 2013 it opened a can of worms.

The revelation that the US was collecting massive amounts of personal information on ordinary people and top government officials around the world triggered intense debate on how to balance national security with the protection of privacy.

The Role of Government 2016 report, released in September 2018 by the International Social Survey Programme, or ISSP, is the result of a survey that set out to discover people's views on public security and civil liberties.

More tolerance of surveillance cameras than email monitoring

One of the questions it asked was whether the government should or should not have the right to monitor emails and any other information exchanged online.

In many countries, people who said authorities "definitely should have the right" and "probably should have the right" account for less than half of respondents. In Japan, these two answers were chosen by about 30 percent, which is comparatively low.

"Should have" includes "Definitely" and "Probably." "Should not have" includes "Definitely" and "Probably."

On the other hand, when asked about the use of video surveillance in public areas, respondents were more tolerant than in the case of email monitoring in all countries and regions. In almost all cases, more than half of respondents said the government should have the right. Seventy-three percent in Japan thought that way, putting it around the middle of the countries and regions covered.

In Japan, local government subsidies and other steps have led to the number of security cameras soaring in recent years. They have become indispensable in police investigations.

The relatively high tolerance of the cameras apparently comes from the sense of security they provide.

"Should have" includes "Definitely" and "Probably." "Should not have" includes "Definitely" and "Probably."

Tolerance for wiretapping high in France

One question about security and privacy was asked on the supposition that the government suspects a terrorist act is about to happen. It asked whether people think the authorities should have the right to tap phone conversations under such circumstances.

More than 90 percent of respondents in France said the authorities should have the right. The country experienced terror attacks by Islamic militants between 2015 and 2016. The figure was 59 percent in Japan, again around the middle of all countries and regions.

"Should have" includes "Definitely" and "Probably." "Should not have" includes "Definitely" and "Probably."

Japan is increasingly on the alert against attacks in the run-up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games. Anti-terrorism drills have been carried out at locations due to host training camps and elsewhere.

As the Games approach, how will people's tolerance of surveillance as a means of terrorism prevention change? It's an issue that's worth watching closely.

The "Role of Government 2016" survey, carried out by the International Social Survey Programme, or ISSP, was released in September 2018. It was carried out between 2016 to 2017, covering 35 countries and regions. NHK's Broadcasting Culture Research Institute was assigned to implement the survey in Japan.

ISSP Research Group (2018): International Social Survey Programme: Role of Government V - ISSP 2016. GESIS Data Archive, Cologne. ZA6900 Data file Version 2.0.0, doi: 10.4232/1.13052