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Beyond ‘nothing to hide’: When identity is key to privacy threat under surveillance

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European Journal of Social Psychology

Published online on

Abstract

Privacy is psychologically important, vital for democracy, and in the era of ubiquitous and mobile surveillance technology, facing increasingly complex threats and challenges. Yet surveillance is often justified under a trope that one has “nothing to hide”. We conducted focus groups (N = 42) on topics of surveillance and privacy, and using discursive analysis, identify the ideological assumptions and the positions that people adopt to make sense of their participation in a surveillance society. We find a premise that surveillance is increasingly inescapable, but this was only objected to when people reported feeling misrepresented, or where they had an inability to withhold aspects of identities. The (in)visibility of the surveillance technology also complicated how surveillance is constructed. Those interested in engaging the public in debates about surveillance may be better served by highlighting the identity consequences of surveillance, rather than constructing surveillance as a generalised privacy threat.