Unit 7 Research skills

Unit 7 Research skills

Research Skills

Module PO 3558

Research Report

Marco Venzon

How did the introduction of new security measures after 9/11 affects the perception of civil liberties of the population the United Kingdom?

The terrorist attacks of September 11th shaped a new world in terms of security policies. Many democracies around the world have started to introduce strict laws and regulations for fighting global terrorism, which affected civil liberties on many different levels. In the United Kingdom, the Anti Terrorism, Crime and Security Emergency Act 2001 empowered the police force and enhanced the government power to intervene in the population lives to prevent acts of terrorism. New Government powers included stop and search, arrest without warrant, electronic surveillance, search of persons and premises are just few of the new security measures that can legally infringe a person's privacy in the United Kingdom. A fair degree of tension accumulated between human rights activists, who have been claiming of a non-proportionate reaction to the events, and the government in charge, who saw it as a necessary move to prevent further attacks. What is clear though, it is that a change over the civil liberties of the population has occurred. But, does the population perceive the civil liberties differently? If no, why? If yes, how does it perceive them then? This research report aims to present the first findings, and demonstrate how the introduction of new security measures has lead the population to perceive a restriction of civil liberties as justifiable for the interest of national security. This would be done by in-depth interviews, a qualitative method which seeks to explore the human perception over the issue. Moreover, the research intends to find a relationship between high threat perception and shift in perception over civil liberties with the support of a quantitative method.


As an International Relations student, 9/11 has been an important part of my studies, starting with the pure understanding of events, to the more complicated causes and controversial consequences of wars and restrictions on civil liberties. However, this time the research looked at it by using an alternative lens, which forced me into a new field of study: the perception of the population. In order to determine if after 9/11 a change in perception over the civil liberties of the UK population occurred, it has been fundamental to understand what the perception was prior to the terrorist attack. Therefore, the research had to look for studies or government's polls to have a background idea of what the population perceived. However, every governmental poll is merely quantitative researches. Successively, it was worthwhile acquiring more knowledge over the effects of 9/11 to civil liberties worldwide, as it would have been crucial point for better framing the possible future interviews and questionnaires. Emphasis had to be put the new legislations, such as the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Emergency Act 2001 in the United Kingdom and the National Security Strategy 2002 and 2006 of the United States, and how they restricted personal liberties for the national interests.

The research was firstly undertaken to assess whether an excess of the government control over the civil liberties might be understood as a threat to the population. Additionally, it also offered the possibility to include a further, deeper and extensive quantitative research over threat perception and how it influences the population likeliness to renounce to different civil liberties. Therefore, a further justification for embarking on this project was to determine whether higher threat perception over the population could signify a shift in perception of the civil liberties.

Literature Review

The literature review will be in a chronological order, following a logical path of appearance of the sources. This will help to understand the background around the research and what studies have been done about the topic. The majority of the sources explored will be used to lay the background of the research. In the aftermath of September 11th, the United States took measures to defend the national territory against the scourge of terrorism. In a book called 'Exceptionalism and the politics of counter-terrorism: liberty, security and the War on Terror', A. W. Neal (2010) highlights the effects of the first counterterrorism measures on a national and international levels of the united States. He goes on by accusing the Patriot Act as the instrument to reduce the civil liberties of the US population. While in United States the Patriot Act was raising perplexity amongst human rights supporters, the United Kingdom was experiencing a similar response amongst minority groups.

The Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Emergency Act 2001 (2001) came as an instrument to fight terrorism, which, not unexpectedly, also influenced the civil liberties of the British population. The document states that in case of the emergency the government can derogate the obligation of right to liberty and security of anyone suspected to be a threat for the national security. This lead to the debate of civil liberties and security, which Job Moran (2007) explains using both perspectives of experts in the field. He uses the words of Haubrich to explain that although the higher threat the response by the British government is not proportionate and damaging the civil liberties of the population (2007). While he contrast it with the arguments of Flyghed which affirms that over-preserving the interest of the single individual would lead to a an inefficient system of crime control (2007).

The debate over the security helps raising the first question: What does the population think over the new anti-terrorism legislation? The UK population answered to the question throughout different government polls, as presented by the Guardian (2005), where more than the 70% believe is justifiable to sacrifice civil liberties for security. However, that was a pure quantitative survey, which was not representing in how the population perceived the new legislation. Occasionally researches have focused on how the population perceive the issue, in one of that occasion Dr Micheal Lister presented his work called 'Anti-terrorism, Citizenship and Security in the UK' (2009). However, his work only present the initial findings but he poses an interesting question: 'How specifically do 'ordinary' people understand the term 'security' in this particular context, and, indeed, also beyond?’ Unfortunately the research only shows the initial findings, but it leaves open the possibility to further investigate other perceptional issues, such us how the perception of civil liberties changed after 9/11.

Research method

For the purpose of my research I believed the most suitable method was an empirical research with a combination of both qualitative and quantitative approaches. The choice for adoption of a qualitative method is given by the nature of the research, which aim is to 'understand individual's perceptions of the world [..] rather than statistical perceptions of the world' (Bell, J., 2005, pg. 134). The preferred method for the qualitative approach was in-depth interviews, which offer great advantages. They offer to the researcher flexibility in designing the interview, as the question format is open and the interview is shaped accordingly to the answers of the participant (S.H.Biber, P. Leavy, 2006). Moreover, they are very effective in providing the person's perspective over an issue, which is a primary part of the objective of the research. Between the main disadvantages it can be found the unreliability of the data, also because of possible researcher's bias, as well as a great amount of data to be transcripted and analysed, also highly time consuming (S.H.Biber, P. Leavy, 2006). While the decision of using also a quantitative approach was to determine whether there might be a 'relationship of one set of facts to another' for 'produc[ing] quantified and, if possible, generalised conclusions' (S.H.Biber, P. Leavy, 2006, pg. 14). Questionnaires will be used to quantify the variation in threat perception of the population, which will then be used to confirm the hypothesis that higher threat perception lead to perceive as justifiable a restriction over the population's civil liberties. More advantages consist in a high reliability, which also avoids the researcher's bias (N. H. Blaikie, 2003). However, this method is criticised for collecting superficial data, as the answers provided might not entirely match with the person's feelings, as well as having possible structural bias (N. H. Blaikie, 2003) .

The research object is to evaluate two different related topics, being population perception over civil liberties first and, as second, the relationship between threat perception and how it influences changes over the perception of civil liberties. In other words, the research does not want to produce an holistic approach over a single topic, but it aims to evaluate two different subjects with different appropriate methods. The research, by gathering the data first follows inductive process, as 'the theory flows from the analysis of observed facts' (J. T. Ishiyama, M. Breuning, 2001, pg. 284). However, before undertaking the process of gathering data, it was fundamental to understand and choose the sampling and recruitment method. The in-depth interviews would be initially conducted on a sample of 30-50 people and, possibly, the point of theoretical saturation would be met (S.H.Biber, P. Leavy, 2006). However, limitations of practicability should be bear in mind and, as Taylor and Bogdan (1998) suggested, the sample limits should be set in the last phases of the research, not the first. Moreover, the sample will be employing a purposive strategy, by targeting a subgroup of the population that has an only one similar condition: little or any knowledge about the Anti Terrorism, Crime and Security Emergency Act 2001. The idea is to understand what people perceive on civil liberties and not what they think, as political views could be misleading, which is why this research preferred method is qualitative. Quantitative method are mostly used for experiments, because of their numerical data format, which is easier to define (H. R. Bernard,G. W. Ryan, 1940) . However, for the purpose of this research, quantitative data will be used only in the second part of the research, which intent to generate hypothesises for the whole sub-population sample. Collecting quantitative data will also be easier. Throughout online questionnaires it will be reached a great number of random people living in the UK, before and after the 9/11 events, a necessary condition to assess if a change in their level of perceived security and perceived threat occurred. Qualitative data would be analysed throughout an analytic induction method, which aims to 'build up casual explanations of phenomena from a close examination of a small number of cases' (H. R. Bernard,G. W. Ryan, 1940, pg. 325). The study wants to start by identifying a phenomenon, which is a possible change in perception on civil liberties, for then moving into working hypothesis to be confirmed by the support of quantitative data. Thereafter, once the hypothesises is worked out, it will try to fit it into a similar situation and see if it fits (H. R. Bernard,G. W. Ryan, 1940).


Doing a research project is a very enjoyable time, although there were challenges to be overcome were many and different in nature. The first problem encountered was identifying relevant studies on the subject. 9/11 and how affected civil liberties has been widely studied and discussed by a great range of experts, which were not, however, often taking into account the population perspective. Moreover, government polls and statistics of this particular nature are off limits material, or so difficult to be found from a first time researcher.. Nonetheless, a great amount of time and patience as well as the tutor suggestions have allowed me to create a general background on the subject of civil liberties and perception. A second challenging problem was the collection of data, although not many have been collected yet. After the first few failing interviews, I have learnt that in order to produce significant results, it is fundamental to structure the interview in a sensible and coherent manner. Therefore I had to delineate a more structured interview, where the interviewed was initially asked to answer three given open questions and after invited to express his view on the topic. However, a consequential problem was the recording and transcriptions of the answers as well as their actual interpretation. Creating the questionnaires was very straightforward, finding and convincing the people of doing it after reading and understanding the questions was a difficult task. I have been encountering a highly demotivating crowd, with no interest in expressing their answers. The solution might be given by selecting a different sample of population, such as International Relations students or lectureres, however, the research it is still at its initial phase, therefore I should be able to improve my interview's skills. The final challenge for me was the analysis of the data gathered. Qualitative interviews are merely someone's view, which might be similar but at the same time different of someone else. Extracting and interpreting the message as well as finding the appropriate context was found to be a very challenging task. Lyn Richards, with his 'Handling qualitative data' (2009) cleared my way, from which I have also learnt that I should have not started my interviews without a clear focus on how to analyse them.


Bell, J. (2005). 'Doing your research project: a guide for first-time researchers in education'. Fourth Ed, UK: Bath Press.

Bernard, H. R., Ryan, G. W. (1940). 'Analyzing qualitative data: systematic approaches'. California: Sage Publications.

Biber, S. H., Leavy, P. (2006). 'The practice of qualitative research'. California: Sage publications.

Blaikie, N. W. H. (2003). 'Analysing Quantitative Data'. California: Sage Publications.

Great Britain. Home Office (2001). 'The Anti Terrorism, Crime and Security Emergency Act'. [Online]. Available at: (Accessed: 22 December 2011)

Ishiyama, J. T., Breuning, M. (2011). '21st Century Political Science: A reference Handbook, Volume 1'. California: Sage Publications.

Lister, M. (2009). 'Anti-terrorism, Citizenship and Security in the UK'. [Online]. Available at:http://www.esrc.ac.uk/my-esrc/grants/RES-000-22-3765/read (Accessed: 22 December 2011)

Neal, W. (2010). 'Exceptionalism and the politics of counter-terrorism: liberty, security and the War on Terror'. New York: Routledge.

Moran, J. (2007). 'Generating More Heat than Light? Debates on Civil Liberties in the UK'. Oxford Journals, Volume 1, Issue 1. [Online]. Available at: http://policing.oxfordjournals.org/content/1/1/80.full (Accessed 27/12/11).

Richards, L. (2009). 'Handling Qualitative Data: A practical Guide'. California: Sage Publications.

The Guardian (2007). 'Opinion Polls'. [Online]. Available at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/polls (Accessed 27/12/11).

Webber, G. R. , Byrd, S. E. (2010). 'In-Depth Interviews'. Sloan Work and Family and Research Encyclopedia. [Online]. Available at: http://wfnetwork.bc.edu/encyclopedia_entry.php?id=16783&area=All (Accessed 27/12/11).