Big Data, Surveillance, and the Digital Citizen

299 Pages Posted: 23 Sep 2018 Last revised: 6 Feb 2019

See all articles by Jennifer Cobbe

Jennifer Cobbe

University of Cambridge - Computer Laboratory

Date Written: 2018


This thesis provides an analysis of the impact of pervasive online surveillance on the relationship between the digital citizen and corporations, the state, and politics in order to argue that the United Kingdom is emerging as a surveillance state in which individual’s relationship with society is remade to their detriment. Original contributions to knowledge are as follows: 1) locating the business model of corporations such as Google and Facebook, identified as surveillance capitalism by Shoshanna Zuboff, in a surveillance studies context and connecting it with Antoinette Rouvroy’s algorithmic governmentality so as to discuss its rationality and technology of power; 2) identifying the emergence of a new role for the digital citizen in this business model as a produsumer, characterised by the production of surplus-value generating behavioural data through both production and consumption of digital content; 3) recognising state online surveillance regimes as a digital panopticon involving a new technology of power of algorithmic panoptic uncertainty; 4) assessing the implications of the forthcoming General Data Protection Regulation and the proposed ePrivacy Regulation for voter surveillance and microtargeting practices undertaken by political organisations; and 5) showing how the communications data retention and disclosure framework in Parts 3 and 4 of the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 is incompatible with EU law in light of recent decisions of the CJEU. This thesis does not seek to provide solutions or regulatory recommendations in response to the issues raised, but bring together literature, highlight problems, and propose new concepts in order to establish a basis for further research. In doing so, this thesis adopts a governmentality framework and takes an interdisciplinary approach to address the changing relationship between the citizen and society in the era of big data and online surveillance.

Keywords: Big Data, Surveillance, Surveillance Capitalism, Microtargeting, Dataveillance, Digital Citizen, Tech, Algorithms, Machine Learning

Suggested Citation

Cobbe, Jennifer, Big Data, Surveillance, and the Digital Citizen (2018). Available at SSRN: or

Jennifer Cobbe (Contact Author)

University of Cambridge - Computer Laboratory ( email )

15 JJ Thomson Avenue
William Gates Building
Cambridge, CB3 0FD
United Kingdom

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