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Digital citizenship and surveillance society

UK state-media-citizen relations after the Snowden Leaks. This project explores digital citizenship in the light of governmental surveillance measures.

Project details

This project aims to explore the nature, opportunities and challenges of digital citizenship in light of the governmental surveillance measures revealed by whistle-blower Edward Snowden. 

The leaks initially published by The Guardian and the Washington Post provide unprecedented insights into the workings of digital surveillance programmes and thus a unique historical opportunity for this research.

They have prompted significant debates around such issues as the nature of civil rights in a context of security; the accountability of government agencies and corporate intermediaries; the transparency, use and configuration of technical infrastructures; the breadth and extent of state interference in civil life; and the role, responsibilities and limitations of journalists reporting on state activities. 

These issues are being negotiated on an on-going basis as revelations from and reactions to Snowden continue to develop, potentially transforming state-media-citizen relations.

This project aims to both capture and actively contribute to these transformations by analysing digital citizenship along four central themes that all shape and manifest contemporary structures of governance in ‘surveillance society’ and address the following questions:


  1. What is the current policy and regulatory framework of digital surveillance in and by the UK as highlighted by the Snowden leaks?
  2. What revisions are being developed and proposed on relevant policy frameworks and legislation, in particular with regards to internet freedoms and privacy protection?


  1. What are the technical infrastructures that are targeted, used, and exploited for digital surveillance as indicated by the Snowden leaks and what role have technical standards played in enabling or hindering surveillance?
  2. What technical tools and infrastructures are being developed in response to digital surveillance?

Civil society

  1. What is the nature of public knowledge with regards to digital surveillance and how are everyday digital communication practices changing?
  2. What practices and agendas of online and digital activism are being developed in response to the Snowden leaks?

News media

  1. How have the British news media represented the Snowden leaks and digital surveillance more broadly?
  2. How have journalists responded to the events following the Snowden leaks, in particular with regards to press freedom and the handling of security-related information?

Research impact

The project will:

  • advance our understanding of digital citizenship and its current challenges
  • benefit the public by providing a detailed and accessible analysis of key dimensions of digital citizenship and state-media-citizen relations, and offering user-friendly guidance on secure digital communication practices
  • addresses the needs of specific groups of stakeholders, as follows:


The policy work-stream will provide policy-makers with detailed data and information about the nature and extent of governmental digital surveillance programmes; relevant privacy laws and regulations; international debates and declarations (e.g., by the Internet Governance Forum IGF and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers ICANN); policy reform proposals; and evidence about public attitudes towards privacy, security, and freedom of expression.

The project will engage civil society groups in shaping the policy framework and will bring policy-makers in contact with advocacy groups and facilitate debates on policy reform.

Software developers and network engineers

The technology work-stream will provide accessible outlines of major communication infrastructures and platforms that have been targeted by governmental surveillance programmes; an overview of vulnerable infrastructures as well as emerging tools and infrastructures for secure communication.

Advocacy groups and activists

Campaigners, advocates and activists will benefit from the development of best practices to make use of online communication platforms and services in a secure manner; information about the ways in which digital surveillance operates and associated risks; and data collected on public knowledge and attitudes towards online surveillance.


Journalists, news professionals and media institutions will benefit from a set of recommendations on investigative reporting of sensitive issues, the use of whistleblowers, and confrontations with the state. The news media work-stream will provide journalists with an in-depth analysis of news reporting on online surveillance and related security concerns to help reflect on professional practices at a pivotal time for state-media-citizen relations.

Research outputs

The project investigators will present their findings at relevant national and international conferences, and publish articles in major journals. Details and updates will be included on this website.

In addition, the research team is planning to develop online inventories of relevant policies and technological tools and platforms, and publish ‘best practice’ guides for journalists and other internet users.

The project team

Grant holder

Arne Hintz

Dr Arne Hintz




This research was made possible through the support of the following organisations: