15:00 - 15:30
Digital Citizenship in an Age of Mass Surveillance

Short thesis

What have been the implications of the Snowden leaks almost 3 years on? How has regulation around surveillance developed and what have been the technological responses? What has been the nature of public debate on the topic? And how do concerns with mass surveillance relate to broader questions of social and economic justice? Based on an 18-month research project into the implications of the Snowden leaks for policy, technology, civil society and news media, this presentation will discuss some of these questions and reflect on what this means for the meanings and practices of citizenship today.


The aftermath of the Snowden revelations has seen the intersection of two different narratives. On the one hand, the empowering nature of citizen journalism, social media activism, participatory online communication and, not least, bottom-up ‘sousveillance’ of elites and institutions has suggested a shift towards enhanced agency by citizens and a democratising trend in state-citizen relations. On the other hand, the pervasive monitoring and analysis of people’s digital communication, movements, activities and preferences by both states and the private sector have led to unprecedented capabilities to oversee and, by extension, control the citizenry. In parallel to these opposing trends, the role of (and perceived ‘balance’ between) state security and civil rights is negotiated in public debate.

This presentation will unpack these developments and explore their meaning for the future of digital citizenship. It will assemble findings from the collaborative research project funded by the UK Economic Social Research Council (ESRC) ‘Digital Citizenship and Surveillance Society’ on the implications of the Snowden leaks for policy, technology, civil society and news media – a project that encompassed a review of policies and technological infrastructure, focus groups, interviews with activists and journalists, and a content analysis of the British media coverage of Snowden and surveillance. The results from this project illustrate the increasing normalization of mass surveillance – through both surveillance-enabling policies as well as technical infrastructures – and widespread justification for mass surveillance in public debate.

Based on these findings, we will argue that we are witnessing the emergence of new forms of citizenship in which individual capabilities to engage with one’s environment are tightly monitored, policed, and limited at the level of public discourse at the same time as issues relating to the mass collection of data is becoming increasingly pertinent to issues of social and economic justice.