State Surveillance: Exploiting Fear during the Pandemic Crisis?

9 Pages Posted: 5 May 2020 Last revised: 6 May 2020

Date Written: April 30, 2020


During the pandemic crisis, state surveillance measures violated citizens’ privacy rights to track the virus spread. Little civic protest resulted—“safety first”? Indeed, many measures were implemented during the crisis without ever having been discussed in advance of the event of a crisis, which may raise ethical considerations, as individual consent to surveillance may change while experiencing fear. This short paper investigates citizens’ consent to voluntary data disclosure and state surveillance and what drives their consent. Preliminary results from an online survey conducted with 1,156 respondents during the onset of the crisis in Germany show that (1) fear increases consent to voluntary data disclosure, (2) fear increases consent to state surveillance directly and indirectly by fostering distrust in others, and (3) trust in the government increases voluntary and state surveillance. Repeating this survey after the crisis has abated will give insights into how consent to surveillance changes without fear salience.

Keywords: state surveillance, data disclosure, pandemic crisis, COVID-19, fear salience

JEL Classification: H12, H41, I18, O38

Suggested Citation

Hillebrand, Kirsten, State Surveillance: Exploiting Fear during the Pandemic Crisis? (April 30, 2020). Available at SSRN: or

Kirsten Hillebrand (Contact Author)

University of Bremen, Germany ( email )

Universitaetsallee GW I
Bremen, D-28334
+491702984375 (Phone)

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