Accepted Paper:

De-scription of security technologies: countering terrorist financing in financial institutions  


Esmé Bosma (University of Amsterdam)

Paper short abstract:

This paper uses Akrich's notion of de-scription to analyse where and how security technologies mediate compliance practices in financial institutions in the context of countering terrorist financing. Findings are based on ethnographic research in banks and other financial institutions.

Paper long abstract:

This paper analyses where and how security technologies mediate compliance practices in banks in the context of countering terrorist financing. In doing so it explores how security knowledge and decisions are formed and diffused at the interface of human and technological actors. Financial institutions have the legal obligation to intercept illicit money flows before they can be used to fund a terrorist attack. Because of the sheer volume of financial transactions banks rely heavily on algorithms and automated software systems in intercepting unusual transactions. This study does not only show how complex technologies obfuscate how security knowledge is being formed, but also how they offer an opportunity for empirical investigation into political decision-making.

Inspired by insights from Science and Technology Studies (STS) and Critical Security Studies (CSS) this study regards security technologies as well as their designers and users as political actors making judgements and decisions in the security realm. Designers inscribe a certain "vision of (or prediction about) the world in the technical content of the new object" (Akrich, 1992, p. 208). The task for an academic analysis is then de-scription- "the opposite movement of the in-scription by the engineer, inventor, manufacturer, or designer" (Akrich & Latour, 1992, p. 259). Based on three months ethnographic fieldwork in a bank I intend to de-scribe security technologies and how they are appropriated by compliance professionals. Herewith the study calls attention to the different stages in which political decisions about financial inclusion and exclusion are being made.

Panel A19
Sensing security. Sensors and the making of transnational security infrastructures