The Social Costs of Digital vs. In-Person Surveillance

44 Pages Posted: 5 May 2020

See all articles by Xu Xu

Xu Xu

Princeton University

Date Written: November 20, 2019


This paper examines the social costs of digital surveillance versus in-person surveillance. I argue that both types of surveillance deter civic participation because citizens fear targeted repression. However, digital surveillance does not entail human-agent intrusion into private lives, and therefore is less likely to lower interpersonal trust and regime legitimacy. I find consistent evidence using a survey experiment with over 500 students in two universities in North and West China. The external validity of the experimental findings is established using the Chinese General Social Survey and an interrupted time-series design that exploits an exogenous shock to the intensity of digital surveillance and repression caused by the 2015 Tianjin Explosions in China.

Keywords: Digital Surveillance, In-person Surveillance, Trust, Legitimacy

Suggested Citation

Xu, Xu, The Social Costs of Digital vs. In-Person Surveillance (November 20, 2019). Available at SSRN: or

Xu Xu (Contact Author)

Princeton University ( email )

Princeton, NJ 08540
United States

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