What Lib Dem members think about internet surveillance and free speech

by Stephen Tall on July 16, 2012

Lib Dem Voice has polled our members-only forum to discover what Lib Dem members think of various political issues, the Coalition, and the performance of key party figures. Some 560 party members responded, and we’re publishing the full results. (Apologies for the delay in reporting this one, by the way: slipped through the net.)

68% Lib Dem members oppose Draft Communications Data Bill

LDV asked: The Draft Communications Data Bill – which proposes to extend the powers of law enforcement agencies and others to have access to communications data (such as Skype and instant-messaging services) – was announced in the Queen’s Speech. Its proponents say it is a vital Bill which ensures security measures keep pace with technological change. Its critics say it is an unwarranted privacy intrusion with no proven security benefits. From what you have seen and read, do you support or oppose the Bill as it is currently set out?

  • 15% – Support the Draft Communications Data Bill
  • 68% – Oppose the Draft Communications Data Bill
  • 16% – Don’t know / No opinion

Ever since it was first mooted this Bill has been a major bone of contention within the Lib Dems, with Cambridge MP Julian Huppert leading the charge against it as it stands. As our survey shows, a large majority of party members — more than two-thirds — are opposed to the Bill. Our MPs will have their work cut out to amend it in a way that turns that figure around.

Section Five: 45% back reform, 36% repeal

LDV asked: Currently Section Five of the Public Order Act makes it an offence to use threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour in a public place. This year’s Lib Dem spring conference adopted a policy of repeal of Section Five as a limit on free speech. There is currently a campaign, however, simply to remove the word ‘insulting’ from the Section. Other people think Section Five should be kept. With which position do you most agree?

  • 36% – Section Five should be repealed in its entirety
  • 45% – The word ‘insulting’ should be deleted from Section Five
  • 10% – Section Five should not be repealed
  • 9% – Don’t know / No opinion

A plurality of the members we surveyed therefore back the proposal simply to remove the word ‘insulting’ from Section Five, though just over a third back the policy the party’s adopted policy.

80% back free speech even if it’s offensive or insulting

LDV then asked: Which of the following statements best reflects your view?

  • 80% – As long as they are not violent, aggressive or threatening, in a free society people should be able to use words that other people might find offensive or insulting
  • 12% – It is not acceptable for people to insult or offend other people in public, and it is right that there should be laws against it
  • 4% – Neither
  • 3% – Don’t know / No opinion

72% back opt-in internet filtering over opt-out

Finally LDV asked: The government are currently consulting with Internet Service Providers on whether they should offer a service that filters internet sites and automatically blocks pornographic sites from people’s home internet service. Some people think that customers should have to choose to have their internet service filtered (an opt-in service), other people think that internet services should all be filtered unless customers ask for their service to be unfiltered (an opt-out service). Do you think internet filters should be opt-in or opt-out?

  • 72% – Opt-in (someone’s internet service should only be filtered if they ask for it)
  • 14% – Opt-out (people’s internet service should be filtered unless they ask for it not to be)
  • 10% – Neither
  • 3% – Don’t know / No opinion

What all the responses to the surveys show, unsurprisingly, is the strongly personal liberal streak within the party, with members backing free speech, and opposed to new laws infringing on personal freedom. Only in the question on Section Five is there a more nuanced view, with a plurality opposed to free speech being extended to include threatening or abusive language in a public place.

  • Over 1,200 Lib Dem paid-up party members are registered with LibDemVoice.org. Some 560 responded to the latest survey, which was conducted between 28th May and 1st June.
  • Please note: we make no claims that the survey is fully representative of the Lib Dem membership as a whole. However, LibDemVoice.org’s surveys are the largest independent samples of the views of Lib Dem members across the country, and have in the past accurately predicted the winners of the contest for Party President, and the result of the conference decision to approve the Coalition agreement.
  • The full archive of our members’ surveys can be viewed at www.libdemvoice.org/category/ldv-members-poll
  • * Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum, and also writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.