Citizenship can be broadly defined as the participatory relationship of individuals with their political community. The legal status, political agency, and identity of citizenship in each sociohistorical context are not fixed but, rather, fluctuate in space and time, determined by correlations of power between dominant and dominated social actors. In this state of flux, citizenship is dialectically connected with privacy and surveillance. In any society, the dominant notion of privacy and the degree of its restriction by social surveillance influence the relation between individuals and political communities, and vice versa. Hence today, privacy is prevalently considered as crucial for the political agency and identity of citizens and is, therefore, embedded in the legal status of citizenship as a fundamental right, whereas excessive surveillance is regarded as having the capacity to corrode personal autonomy and political participation. In this context, the rising phenomenon of pervasive and intensive surveillance intervenes in the contemporary social relation of citizenship to enhance the power of dominant actors and structures and the capacities of social control. This entry discusses the ways in which the concepts and practices of surveillance, personal autonomy, and security shape the structure of citizenship.

Various stories around contemporary surveillance are being covered by different kinds of mainstream and alternative media and play a significant role in modifying citizens’ level of awareness, understanding, and perceptions around privacy, data protection, security, and surveillance. Such media narratives—often characterized by exaggeration, distortion, questionable analysis, and symbolization—contribute to the creation of a culture of fear and insecurity, with further implications for democratic citizenship. Surveillance can negatively influence important societal values, such as individual freedom, autonomy, privacy, solidarity, equality, nondiscrimination, trust, and the rule of law. Such values are of paramount importance for the structure of a democratic system and the support of key democratic processes, such as the creation of associations, political interests, and constructive and alternative ideas, and the raising of criticism.

The human right to privacy, according to which no one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his or her privacy, family, home, or correspondence, and anyone shall be protected by law against such interference, is considered one of the foundations of a democratic society. Specifically, in relation to personal autonomy, the right to privacy establishes a zone in which citizens have the opportunity to withdraw, contemplate, make choices, and relate to one another without being subjected to the control of ruling powers. By protecting and facilitating personal autonomy, this private zone acts as a prerequisite for the existence of a democratic public sphere because it empowers citizens to effectively engage in activities of collective self-determination. Yet the ways in which privacy is instituted today not only protect but also shape citizenship, and in certain ways they may even promote the surveillance of citizens. By recognizing the right of individuals to freely market elements of their private lives in exchange for goods or services, privacy as commodity has become the dominant manifestation of instituted privacy.

The often vague, unclear, and outdated legal framework around privacy, data protection, and security, as well as the increase in covert—and often illegal—antiterror legislations frustrate citizens even more due to the unpredictable consequences of their actions. The democratic prerequisite of the rule of law has often been disregarded, as various revelations and publications around surveillance have shown. This decreases even more the already low level of trust of citizens toward private and public authorities. In this environment of uncertainty, citizens tend to be more careful regarding their social interactions. This, in turn, limits the possibilities of solidarity, which, together with trust, is the basis for meaningful political organization.

Social sorting and informational structures of citizenship, such as electronic identification cards and databases, can be employed by states to implement certain types of citizenship categorization and discrimination in terms of entitlements, responsibilities, or access to space and public services. If surveillance acts as a techno-social substrate to relations of domination and subordination, then it undercuts freedom and democracy. It can therefore be reasonably assumed that the intensification of surveillance leads us not to freer and more equal societies but to societies in which relations of exploitation and domination are deepened and multiplied. Citizens are shaped by infrastructures of surveillance in the direction of self-constraint from modes of behavior considered as deviating from the norm.

Yet citizens also engage in social struggles against state or corporate surveillance as a means to guard their personal and collective autonomy and reshape instituted concepts of privacy toward wider protection of their private and interpersonal spheres of activity. Thus, the Digital Age reveals a dialectical relationship between citizenship and privacy/surveillance, both complex and mutually shaped. In contrast to various techno-deterministic approaches, the decisive factor in this dialectical process is not technological but genuinely social, that is, the outcome of the correlations of power between citizens’ organizations and prosurveillance state/market forces.

Dimitris Tsapogas and Antonios Broumas

See also Civil Rights Movement ; Data Mining and Profiling in Social Network Analysis ; Politics ; Social Control ; Social Sorting

Further Readings

Habermas, Jürgen. The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere (trans.Thomas Burger and Frederik Lawrence). Cambridge, MA: Polity Press, 1989.

Hagerty, Kevin D. and Samatas Minas, eds. Surveillance and Democracy. London, England: Routledge, 2010.

Solove, Daniel J. Understanding Privacy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008.