The French are prepared to sacrifice some freedom for greater security.
After terrorist attacks, France is still in a state of emergency, where demonstrations against the Employment law are characterised by violence, which also appears on the margins of sporting events such as the football Euro 2016. Security checks are ever-present in the daily lives of the French. While the government’s security policy is both widespread and criticised, Coppernic, the leader in the design and deployment of professional mobile handsets used for security of property and people, appointed Opinion Way to organise a national survey intended to gauge the feelings of the French about the multiplying controls on their daily lives. Here are their main conclusions.
France: a “society of control” for 56% of its citizens
Swinging from the “Charlie spirit” to support for a security policy marked by the state of emergency, the French believe that they are living in a society of control (56%).
There is a wide generation gap in this feeling, however: while younger generations overwhelmingly consider their society to be a “society of control” (62% of 25-34 year olds), people over 65 mainly perceive France as a free society (54%).
At the same time, only the French close to “the Republicans” and the Socialist Party consider that they live in a free society (59% and 54% respectively). People favouring the extreme left and the extreme right on the contrary believe they are living in a controlled society (75% and 69% respectively).
Control is generally accepted, despite loss of individual liberties
The French happily accept this sense of living in a “society of control”: the vast majority (84%) consider that being controlled is not a problem if one has a clear conscience. Over eight in ten French people (81%) consider that the security is intended to protect citizens. For 72% of them, it is even a means to improve their own wellbeing and for 71%, it encourages wellbeing in society.
The impact of this level of control over individual liberties is still an issue in the minds of the French: 43% of them consider that the controls form an attack on personal liberty, and 46% that they impinge on their private life. One in two French people (49%) even class these checks as “heavy-handed policing”. Nonetheless, given the threat of terrorism and the increasing violence in society, they are ready for their liberty to be pruned back to ensure that their loved ones and their property are safe.
In a new trend, the French express unconditional support for those responsible for delivering security procedures and devices, except where it affects their personal finances.
So in contrast to received wisdom, the French have a good image of the security professions and resources: gendarmes, police and customs officers are seen very positively (86, 85 and 85%). The French continue to give unanimous support to the forces of law and order in this post-terrorist attack period, despite the violence in the latest employment demonstrations. Similarly, security staff at the entrance to clubs, stadiums, theatres or shopping centres are generally accepted by all French people (70%), and especially by women (77%).
On the other hand, the professions associated with financial control lag behind in terms of image: 58% have a favourable view of tax inspectors, and only 46% for bailiffs.
The results of this survey show a major break with the past, when security measures were considered a serious threat to individual freedom of the French. As with security gates at airports which are seen in favourable times by 90% of respondents, the French generally perceive safety measures as very positive. So 88% of them have a good opinion of detector gates in shops, and validation terminals for travel tickets; 82% for alco-tests and PIN codes.
Often the subject of polemic in the past, surveillance cameras now receive 80% of favourable opinions. Fingerprint checks are also well received by 76% of people.
Lagging behind, speed radar cameras only receive 45% of positive responses. In the mind of the French, the measures or professions that directly affect their wallets are suspect. This is the main contrast highlighted by the results of this survey. Controls, yes, but without affecting individual finances!
Finally, in correlation with the mistrust of digital described above, geolocation (58% positive opinions) and connected objects (57%) arouse the most mistrust among French people, not just younger generations.
The French want greater control in the social field
In a personal economic and social context, the French want to see more control in some areas (social support, work, health, blood alcohol testing, etc.): only 17% think that the frequency of checks targeting benefit and social security fraud is sufficient, and 24% think that this is the case for black market labour.
Other areas of concern: drink-driving checks and airport identity checks are considered inadequate by 37% and 40% respectively of the French population.
Younger generations protest about controls over their digital life
Finally, as digital embeds even deeper into the daily life of the French, those questioned believe that digital businesses, especially the main Internet providers (68%), telecom operators (58%) and social networks (57%) monitor their activity far too closely.
Younger generations are especially critical of these new forms of control: 75% of 18-24 year-olds believe that the Internet giants and social media providers exercise excessive control. Save for the digital space, where individual liberties seem more important than the hazards present, such controls seem justified in the eyes of French people.
In a society deeply scarred by the attacks of January and November 2015, the French are aware of the challenges to their security, and they generally accept most of the controls imposed on their daily lives. Although they consider that certain operators exceed their role, they are ready to sacrifice some individual freedoms to make property and people secure.
While the French are often seen as iconoclastic and disputatious, the results of this survey show that they see these controls as means to improve daily well-being and to develop a fairer society. As 84% of French people consider that the checks are not a problem for those with a clear conscience, it seems that the increasing violence in daily life (terrorism, social or sporting demonstrations that degenerate into urban violence, increasing ideological divisions, etc.) encourages them to side with the representatives of law and order. Most of them think such violence unjustified and hope to see stronger but fair controls.
*Photo: Press conference presenting the Coppernic survey. Photo Cédric Buisson.