Technological surveillance: Understanding how individuals perceive and respond to digital surveillance risks

Author Identifier

Tina Moss

Date of Award


Document Type



Edith Cowan University

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Science

First Supervisor

Dave Brooks

Second Supervisor

Michael Coole


Surveillance is not a new phenomenon, however, in the modern era surveillance has become a highly sophisticated undertaking due to technological digitisation, becoming more invasive, omnipresent and routine. Nowadays the concept of privacy has driven contemporary surveillance discourse, noting increased complexities around sharing personal information. Such a shift has altered the way the public responds to and perceives the risk of surveillance technologies. Such perceptions have been further compounded by technological convergence, which has not only removed the expectations of anonymity, but challenged existing legislative and regulatory arrangements that govern single-function technologies, increasing the perception of vulnerability and exploitation.

The contemporary surveillance literature often focuses on specialist or expert opinions and lacks a comprehensive understanding of how laypeople perceive and respond to technological surveillance risks. This study examined laypeople’s perceptions of surveillance technologies risks, by drawing on two principles of cognitive theory of risk perception, the Psychometric Paradigm and judged heuristics. Using a mixed method, multiphase research approach, Phase One involved the use of psychometric mapping that positioned nominated surveillance technologies according to Familiar and Dread Risk characteristics. Phase Two employed focus groups to explore laypeople’s cognisance of surveillance risk, capturing their knowledge, understandings and lived experience.

The significance of this study lies in its contribution to the understanding of laypeople's risk perceptions of digital surveillance technologies and how such perceptions impact their interactions with these technologies. Findings indicated that voluntary choice and control were the most significant risk mediator (acceptance) characteristics, with an evaluation of benefits against risk consequence markedly influenced by affective decisions, further shaped by of socio-demographic factors. Consequently, the study addresses the pressing need to understand how laypeople perceive technological surveillance risk in the modern age by uncovering valuable insights that inform policy, technology development, and public dialogue. Such an understanding is crucial for policymakers and researchers as they seek to bridge the gap between expert assessments and public perceptions of risk.



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