Authoritarianism and privacy: The moderating role of terrorism

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The resurgence in interest in authoritarianism has been linked to a rise not only in the acceptance of right-wing ideologies, but specifically restrictions to civil liberties. Threats from posed by immigration and terrorism, for example, have made these been particularly noticeable in relation to surveillance and the right to privacy. We can observe simple correlations between these variables; however, 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.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)573-581
Number of pages9
JournalSurveillance and Society
Issue number3/4
Publication statusPublished - 09 Aug 2017


  • authoritarianism
  • privacy
  • terrorism
  • threat
  • civil liberties


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