Snowden’s revelations and the attitudes of students at Swedish universities

Date14 August 2017
Publication Date14 August 2017
AuthorIordanis Kavathatzopoulos,Ryoko Asai,Andrew A. Adams,Kiyoshi Murata
SubjectInformation & knowledge management,Information management & governance,Information & communications technology
Snowdens revelations and
the attitudes of students
at Swedish universities
Iordanis Kavathatzopoulos
Department of Information Technology, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden
Ryoko Asai
Department of Information Technology, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden
and Centre for Business Information Ethics, Meiji University, Tokyo, Japan
Andrew A. Adams
Centre for Business Information Ethics, Meiji University, Tokyo, Japan, and
Kiyoshi Murata
School of Commerce, Meiji University, Tokyo, Japan
Purpose This study aims to map Swedish studentsattitudes towards Snowdens revelations and their
effects in the politicaland socio-cultural environment of Sweden.
Design/methodology/approach A questionnaire was answeredby 190 Swedish university students.
The quantitativeresponses to the survey and qualitativeconsiderations of free text answerswere statistically
Findings Swedish students had a high level of knowledgeabout the Snowden revelations; they actively
searched for information, gave a positive judgement of Snowdens actions and were willing to follow his
example in Sweden, although not in the USA. They trusted their country and most of its institutions and
authoritiesexcept for secret service agencies and the internetand computer software companies.
Practical implications This study could be used as a design of education for university students,
especiallyin information technology programmes.
Social implications The study can be used for developing and applying policies on privacy,
surveillanceand whistle-blowing.
Originality/value This study is part ofa bigger international study to map studentsattitudestowards
Snowdens revelations and their opinions about privacy, surveillance and whistle-blowing opening up for
Keywords Sweden, Surveillance, Privacy, Snowden
Paper type Research paper
This study was supported by the MEXT (Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and
Technology, Japan) Programme for Strategic Research Bases at Private Universities (2012-2016)
project Organisational Information EthicsS1291006 and the JSPS Grant-in-Aids for Scientic
Research (B) 24330127 and (B) 25285124. Meiji Universitys Yasunori Fukuta provides additional
statistical analysis of responses.
Received 6 February 2017
Revised 24 March 2017
Accepted 24 March 2017
Journalof Information,
Communicationand Ethics in
Vol.15 No. 3, 2017
pp. 247-264
© Emerald Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/JICES-02-2017-0009
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
1. Introduction
In June 2013, The Guardian in the UK and The Washington Post in the USA began
publishing internal electronic documents from the USsignals intelligence (SIGINT)
organisation the National Security Agency (NSA), provided to them by Edward Snowden
who had obtained the documents while being employed as a systems administrator at the
NSA for contractor Booz Allen Hamilton.As was done previously, the NSA and other parts
of the US Government generally did not conrm or deny the validity of the documents;
however, on 21st June 2013, the US Department of Justice charged Snowden with violating
the Espionage Act. The activitiesdetailed in the documents included activity undertaken by
the NSA and its main SIGINT partner the UKs GovernmentCommunications Headquarters
(GCHQ), and with the SIGINT agencies of three former British colonies (Canada, Australia
and New Zealand), as well as joint activitieswith similar agencies in other countries such as
Germanys Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND).
In 2014, the Pew Research Center (Madden, 2014) undertook the rst of a number of
surveys of US citizensattitudes to Snowden and the documents he revealed. In particular,
they asked questions such as whetherrespondents believed that Snowdens revelations had
served or harmed the public good, andwhether Snowden should be prosecuted. Inspired by
these surveys, a group of academics at Meiji University in Tokyo developed a pilot survey
deployed in Japan and Spain by use of students as the primary research population (for
reasons of resource constraints)and conducted follow-up interviews. The resultsof this pilot
survey are presented by Murata etal. (2017). Having revised the survey after analysis it was
deployed with the cooperation of local academicians in Mexico, New Zealand, Spain and
Sweden (in English), and in translation in Japan and Germany. With the aid of graduate
students studying in Tokyo, it was also translated into Chinese and deployed in Taiwan
(using traditional Chinese characters) and the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) (using
simplied Chinese characters). The choice of countries was a combination of deliberation
and pragmatism. The following countries had suitable resources available: New Zealand
was chosen as a Five Eyes member; Germany, Spain and Sweden provide an EU
perspective; Mexicoprovides a US neighbouring perspective as well as a Spanish-inuenced
culture outside Spain; and Japan, China and Taiwan provide a Southeast Asian viewpoint.
This paper presents the resultsof the survey in Sweden.
1.1 Roadmap
This paper focuses on the local content of Snowdens revelations in the rest of this
introduction section. In Section2, an overview is given of the general cultural and historical
context of government surveillance. Section 3 gives an overview of the survey and of
respondents demographicinformation, while Section 4 provides the detailed survey results.
Section 5 presents the politicaland cultural impacts of Snowden as perceived by the authors,
while the nal section offers some conclusionsand identies avenues for future research.
1.2 Snowdens revelations and Sweden
People in Sweden have a high level of knowledge about new technologyas well as a strong
conviction about their society being supportive of individual rights and freedom. A
combination of these two generates a strong interest in issues of the relationship of
technology, society and human life, especially among younger people in the country.
Sweden is one of the oldest countries in Europe with strong traditions and a rather
homogenous culture. Snowdens whistle-blowing and revelations have been perceived
rather positively on an ideological and moral level. He was awarded the Swedish Right
Livelihood Award, 2014, which is described as an alternative Nobel Prize, with the

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