Sorry James Bond - mass surveillance isn't evil


daniel craig james bond spectre

MGM/Columbia Pictures/EON Productions

James Bond isn't a fan of mass surveillance, but most people are.

The new James Bond movie has an unlikely villain: Mass surveillance.


Sure, there's the usual assortment of thugs, assassins, and an evil super-villain who really loves to talk. But if "Spectre" has a message, it's this: Mass surveillance is bad, and intelligence-sharing between nations is even worse.

Here's the premise of the surveillance in "Spectre": A new government organisation named the Centre for National Security uses high-tech surveillance rather than old-fashioned spying. It inks a deal to share surveillance and intelligence with other nations, too, just like NSA leaker Edward Snowden revealed actually happened.

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"M," the head of MI6, even refers to expansion of surveillance as "undemocratic" at one point in the film. And Bond himself ends up fighting against surveillance towards the end of the movie.

There's no question that intrusive surveillance makes an effective villain, but it all felt rather overblown. Are people really scared of surveillance?


Polling organisation YouGov has been surveying the UK for years about attitudes to surveillance, and the answer always comes back the same: The public supports surveillance. In fact, British people want more of it, not less.

In January this year, YouGov published the results of a survey on the UK's perception of surveillance. It found that 53% of people supported increased surveillance. They agreed with the UK's so-called "snoopers charter" that calls for phone and internet companies to retain detailed customer data for 12 months. 31% of respondents opposed the proposal.

The same survey found that 63% of people trusted the intelligence services to do the right thing (29% of people did not trust them.)

This isn't a passing phase, though. People have supported surveillance for years. Another YouGov survey from 2013 found that 42% people felt that the balance of surveillance is about right. Only 19% of people felt that there was too much surveillance. Additionally, 43% of people felt that Edward Snowden's leaks were a bad thing that hurt the security services (35% of people supported the leaks.)


The survey data tells a very different story to "Spectre." Sure, the surveillance systems in "Spectre" make for an unsettling and effective villain - but the perception of them isn't reflective of what normal people think.