Support for civil liberties declines in the UK
Britons tend to think of themselves as the natural supporters of civil liberties, but as empirical research published today shows, support for them is waning in the face of terrorist threats.
The British Social Attitudes Survey, an annual survey that has been conducted for almost 25 years, shows that majorities of 70 to 80 per cent now see compulsory identity cards, longer police detention of terror suspects without charge and the phone tapping and tagging of terrorist suspects as a price worth paying for security, as the Financial Times writes today.
However, while, as one of the study's authors, Prof Gearty of the LSE, says, the "very mention of counter-terrorism makes people more willing to contemplate giving up their freedoms", it is worth noting that support for civil liberties has been eroding long before the present terrorist outrages on 9/11, 2001 in New York and 7/7, 2005 in London. To a considerable extent, this seems due to society forgetting just why civil liberties were considered important in the past. In Prof Gearty's words: People "know they should care" about civil liberties, "but cannot for the life of them articulate why".
Another interesting aspect of the survey (and linking nicely to the previous blog post mentioning an increasing party-politicisation of privacy issues) is that it is mostly Labour Party supporters' views that have changed on key issues such as police detention and identity cards, while Tory supporters are turning more to libertarian views.