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Ivan Szekely: What Do IT Professionals Think About Surveillance?

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If one accepts Lessig’s metaphor that in today’s information society “the Code” is the law, than the Coders must be its lawmakers who have a decisive impact on how information systems are designed, realized and operated. Surveillance systems are enhanced or in some cases generated by today’s information technology, thus the views of those conceptualizing and realizing such systems fundamentally influence the way such systems, or in general, our surveillance society, are being developed. However, the people behind these processes – the IT professionals and their principals – constitute an unexplored group in social sciences in general, and in surveillance studies in particular. A recent project, BROAD (Broadening the Range Of Awareness in Data protection, explored the knowledge, opinion, values, attitudes and self-reported behaviour of IT professionals in the area of handling personal data. This paper – the draft of a chapter to be published in Christian Fuchs et al. (eds.), The Internet & Surveillance, Routledge (forthcoming) – presents some of the main findings of the interviews and the online survey conducted in the Netherlands and in Hungary, studying the views of people representing a profession deeply influenced by globalization in two different social and cultural environments.

The author’s intention has been to frame an argument in favour of making IT professionals’ views on these matters count more in the formulation and implementation of the concept of modern surveillance systems. The conclusions of the study may enrich the discussions on the subject with some novel viewpoints, hopefully leading the emergence of new policies, strategies and areas of intervention for the benefit of the various stakeholders in the area of surveillance and the handling of personal data. The study also aims at providing feedback to the studied population, the IT professionals themselves, and motivating researchers to conduct further studies in this area.


The paper gives a brief overview of research preliminaries, excluding studies conducted from a criminology or law enforcement angle with an aim to develop efficient strategies to further the social acceptance of surveillance. The studies surveyed belong to the category of either the area of surveillance studies or the broader field of privacy studies.

The main part of the paper analyses the information collected by the BROAD project in two countries, the Netherlands and Hungary. One part of the information analysed has been extracted from a series of semi-structured interviews with IT professionals, the other part from the database set up as a result of an online survey conducted in the two countries.


After having analysed the research preliminaries a series of hypotheses have been formulated regarding the expected characteristics of the IT professionals’ views. A model – an extended version of Ajzen’s theory of planned behaviour model – on how knowledge and external factors influence behaviour in the area concerned, has also been created.

The research presented in this paper applied both qualitative and quantitative methods. First, 24 face-to-face interviews were conducted and analysed. Its findings are illustrated in this paper with quotations representing typical views of the interviewees. This was followed by an online survey including 48 questions in five major blocks, and over 300 variables. Out of the 1,799 filled-in questionnaires the data of 1,076 questionnaires formed the basis of the analysis. Sophisticated multivariate analysing methods were applied in order to filter out distortions resulting from the characteristics of the sample. Finally the presented hypotheses have been revisited and tested.


The research provided valuable information in the white area of exploring IT professional’s views on the handling of personal data. It revealed that these professionals have a great potential to



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