Attitudes to Privacy Among EU Referendum Voters

brain-logo_w_text4Press Release:

14th July 2016, London.

Brexiters and Bremainers also divided on rights to online privacy.

New research shows EU Referendum voters are also deeply divided along the same lines over “Nothing to hide, Nothing to fear” privacy argument.

Research by the Online Privacy Foundation shows that UK citizens who voted in favour of Leaving the EU were significantly more likely than their Remain-voting counterparts to agree with the statement “With regards to Internet privacy, if you’ve done nothing wrong, you’ve got nothing to fear.” In fact, if a voter strongly agreed with the statement, they were almost twice as likely to have voted Leave as someone who disagreed with the statement.

The findings suggest that Brexit supporters are far more likely than Remain supporters to support the Investigatory Powers Bill proposed by the UK Government and dubbed the ‘Snoopers Charter’. The Bill is part of the policy agenda of the new UK Prime Minister, Theresa May  . It would give the Government bulk powers to record and collect citizens’ online history. The Bill also permits UK law enforcement agencies to remotely monitor and hack computers and smartphones for national security matters.

The Online Privacy Foundation study also found that:

• Leave voters scored higher on the scale of Right Wing Authoritarianism¹, a trait found to be associated with the acceptance of reductions in civil liberties in order to combat real or perceived threats such as terrorism. The higher someone scores on the Right Wing Authoritarian scale, the more likely they were to agree with the “nothing to hide, nothing to fear” argument.

• Remain voters tended to disagree with the statement across all age groups, while Leave voters’ tendency to agree with the statement increased as they got older.


Chris Sumner, researcher and co-founder of the Online Privacy Foundation comments:

“It unsurprising that there’s a link between attitudes to Privacy and Right Wing Authoritarianism (RWA). Previous studies have found that people who score high on the RWA scale tend to be more hostile towards anyone or anything which they perceive as a threat to group or societal integrity.”

“Younger people are far less likely to agree with the statement, but arguably have the most to lose. It would appear that the battle lines on this debate, just like the EU Referendum, pitch roughly the same discernible segments of society against another.”

“The ‘Nothing to Fear’ argument is a gross over-simplification as it presupposes that you know what information is being captured and how it’s being interpreted. Our previous research in determining personality traits from social media use highlight the problem of false positives; what you do on the internet can be easily misinterpreted and used against you.”

The findings are from a series of Facebook studies conducted by ‘The Online Privacy Foundation’ which examined the psychological biases, personality traits and attitudes of 11,517 voters in the UK’s Referendum on EU membership.



¹ It should be noted that right-wing authoritarianism “does not necessarily refer to someone’s politics, but to psychological preferences and personality. It means that the person tends to follow the established conventions and authorities in society”  (Source).  See ‘Method’, below, for further context.

Method & Context


Participants were presented with the 22 question Right Wing Authoritarian Scale, reproduced, with permission from Chris W. Johnson’s web-site here, which is adapted from the material in Dr. Altemeyer’s book. The Authoritarians, pp. 10-15, chapter 1.¹

Sample questions include:

(1) The only way our country can get through the crisis ahead is to get back to our traditional values, put some tough leaders in power, and silence the troublemakers spreading bad ideas.

(2) The “old-fashioned ways” and the “old-fashioned values” still show the best way to live.

(3) Homosexuals and feminists should be praised for being brave enough to defy “traditional family values.”


The Right Wing Authoritarian (RWA) Scale was included as the referendum was arguably the raison d’etre of right wing UKIP party². It was therefore anticipated that there would be a correlation between referendum voting and political orientation. The RWA scale had also been used in related research³.

NOTE: As previously noted, authoritarianism  “does not necessarily refer to someone’s politics, but to psychological preferences and personality. It means that the person tends to follow the established conventions and authorities in society”  (Source).

In future studies we plan to explore  whether people support the “Nothing to hide, Nothing to Fear” argument because they are more Right Wing, or because they are more Authoritarian.

The lowest total possible score on the RWA scale would be 20 and the highest, 180. In prior studies in the United States, Democrats tend to score between 60 and 110, while Republicans tend to score between 110 and 130 (See


(1) Survey and associated text ©2006 Bob Altemeyer. The Authoritarian survey used in this study was reproduced, with permission from  Chris W. Johnson’s web survey at

(2) Ford, Robert, and Matthew Goodwin. “Understanding UKIP: Identity, social change and the left behind.” The Political Quarterly 85.3 (2014): 277-284.

(3) Kossowska, Małgorzata, et al. “Relationships between right‐wing authoritarianism, terrorism threat, and attitudes towards restrictions of civil rights: A comparison among four European countries.” British Journal of Psychology 102.2 (2011): 245-259.



Figure 1. Differences in attitudes to Privacy between EU Referendum voters with 95% confidence bands plotted


Figure 2. Percentage voting Leave changing across attitudes to Privacy with 95% confidence intervals plotted


Figure 3. Effect size for Attitudes to Privacy

Supporting Information

Links to related material

Irrational thinking drove the EU Referendum result – Online Privacy Foundation

Just how accurate is Facebook personality prediction? – Online Privacy Foundation

Responding to “Nothing to hide, Nothing to fear” – Open Rights Group

About Online Privacy Foundation

The Online Privacy Foundation is a not-for-profit organisation made up of volunteers whose mission, through topical research, is to empower individuals to make informed choices about how they use social media and interact online. Previous research by the Online Privacy Foundation has been presented at world leading conferences for Psychology, Machine Learning and Computer Security.

The Online Privacy Foundation is a non-political organization and the research does not express an opinion on behalf of the Online Privacy Foundation.

The Online Privacy Foundation received no funding for these surveys and are not affiliated with any EU Referendum campaign.


Media contacts:

Chris Sumner, Researcher & Co-Founder Online Privacy Foundation


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