Accepted Paper:

Commensurating financial intelligence: a qualitative study of European Financial Intelligence Units (fius)  


Pieter Lagerwaard (University of Amsterdam)

Paper short abstract:

The paper analyses how social processes of commensuration underpin European counter-terrorism finance. It focuses on data production of national authorities in charge of generating actionable financial intelligence. It shows that commensuration facilitates the sharing of intelligence within Europe.

Paper long abstract:

This paper analyses how European Union (EU) member states share financial information for countering terrorism finance. All EU members have their own Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU), collecting (large amounts) of financial information from the private sector and transforming it into financial intelligence to be used by governmental actors. This process is mostly organized at the national level. The information derives in particular from banks, who are obligated to report Suspicious Transaction Reports (STRs). Each FIU analyses these reports and upon encountering suspicious activities, they conduct additional research on the identity of the senders, their financial history, criminal records, and other personal information. Hence, information is transformed into (financial) intelligence, gathered in a file and transferred to executive authorities.

However, FIUs (have to) operate also at international level, for instance exchanging financial information with their foreign counterparts upon request and in the framework of bilateral or multilateral agreements. In doing so, they have to transcend the specific cultural, economic, and political knowledges that make up the national STRs and resulting files. This paper pays attention to the social dimensions of these data flows. It examines how financial intelligence is made 'commensurable', that is: how different knowledges are reduced into common metrics (Espeland and Stevens 1998). By analyzing annual reports of European FIUs, conducting semi-structured interviews and participant observations with a FIU, this contribution unpacks how situated national security issues and disparate (national) practices are simplified and made commensurable through processes of classification, standardization, and quantification.

Panel G03
Technologies that count: big data and social order