British citizens worry about their online presence amid state surveillance concerns

24 June 2016

Online Surveillance

British citizens are worrying about their online presence in the aftermath of the Snowden leaks amid concerns over state surveillance, new research by Cardiff University has found.

The first comprehensive study of its kind to examine the consequences of the Snowden revelations - led by the University’s School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies – revealed that citizens have different strategies for coping with it.

Cardiff University’s Dr Arne Hintz, Principal Investigator of the project, said: “There is currently a wide debate about the 'chilling effect' of surveillance and our research has highlighted some significant concerns. They are particularly interesting in light of the current controversies over the proposed UK Investigatory Powers Bill.

Dr Lina Dencik, Cardiff University, added: “Self-regulating behaviour is evident amongst citizens, particularly ethnic minorities, as well as an avoidance of politics that might be considered too ‘radical’ or controversial.

“Citizens supposedly 'don't care' about surveillance, but our focus groups show that they do – they feel disempowered and are adapting their digital behaviour to suit life in the post-Snowden era.”

The study also found that the British press has justified mass surveillance through narratives associated with terrorism and national security, with counter narratives emerging only in the blogsphere and non-traditional media.

“Paradoxically, this is in contrast to critical views of surveillance held by many journalists”, Professor Karin Wahl-Jorgensen, Cardiff University, said.

The Snowden revelations have led to the ongoing development of new surveillance legislation in the UK, and to the development of new technological standards to protect privacy. However the research found that the interests of civil society and human rights protection have largely been neglected.

Undertaken over the past 18-months, the pioneering study – Digital Citizenship and Surveillance Society: UK State-Media-Citizen Relations After the Snowden Leaks – examined the impacts, challenges and opportunities of the whistleblower’s revelations by focusing on four key areas: journalism and news media; civil society and activism; policy reform; and technology.

“The internet has allowed new forms of digital citizenship and online democracy to emerge, but our study shows that it has also led to an unprecedented extent of surveillance, with far-reaching, concerning and significant consequences for civil rights, public debate, and democratic engagement,” added Dr Hintz.

The findings are presented at the Institute of Mechanical Engineering in London on 27 June, 1pm. The presentation will be followed by a series of workshops to discuss the implications of the research results with scholars, policymakers, civil society activists and industry representatives.

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