Authoritarianism and privacy: The moderating role of terrorism

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Gareth Norris


The resurgence in interest in authoritarianism has been linked to a rise in the acceptance of right-wing ideology and also restrictions on civil liberties, particularly in relation to surveillance and the right to privacy. Whilst we can observe simple correlations between these variables, the dynamics of threat are more complex to understand. The analysis reported here demonstrates how the relationship between authoritarianism and the curtailment of civil liberties is moderated by the threat of terrorism. Using 2005 British Social Attitudes survey data, collected either side of the 7/7 bombings, comparisons between the pre-post samples indicate that the threat of terrorism activates authoritarian tendencies and reduces the protection of rights to privacy from government. Interestingly and importantly, reactions to terrorism in the form of a change in opinion regarding civil liberties for those scoring higher in authoritarianism remained almost constant between the two periods. The results provide support for understanding how minority opinions (removal of rights to privacy) can become majority views during times of threat.

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