Sensing security. Sensors and the making of transnational security infrastructures
Location Bowland Lecture Theatre (Bowland Main)
Date and Start Time 26 Jul, 2018 at 14:00
Sessions 1


  • Nikolaus Pöchhacker (Technical University of Munich) email
  • Nina Witjes (Technical University of Munich) email

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Discussant Jan-Hendrik Passoth (Technical University of Munich)

Short abstract

In our session we want to explore the role of sensors and data infrastructures in the construction and interpretation of changing local and global socio-technical environments related to the interplay of sensing and (algorithmic) sense-making in various security domains.

Long abstract

The interplay of sensing and (algorithmic) sense-making marks an important, yet underexplored momentum in the social construction of security in increasingly digital societies. Sensory devices are not only producing multiple ontologies but also produce and mediate "macro-level" entities through information infrastructures in the making (Bowker 2017; Mukerji, 2011). In our session we want to explore the role of sensors and data infrastructures in the construction and interpretation of changing local and global socio-technical environments in recent discussions in science and technology studies, critical security and critical data studies. We call for contributions exploring how sensing devices - from satellites and drones to environmental sensor networks and digital sensing infrastructures - become invested with global and socio-political significance. We seek both large-scale empirical accounts of historical and contemporary cases across the globe, and welcome papers that critically investigate sensors and sensory networks as situated security practices of infrastructure making. In the our panel we want to explore topics such as, but not limited to:

'Infrastructural inversions' (Bowker & Star, 2000) of sensors infrastructures as objects of international political controversy.

Smart borders or body scanners as means to control migration flows.

Novel forms of (criminological) knowledge through predictive analytics.

The connection between electronic devices - and their leftovers - to human rights violations, conflict and exclusion and a possible responsible governance framework.

How do sensors shape, shift and constitute domains of national and international security and policy-making?

The role of sensor infrastructures in the constitution and mediation between state and non-state actors.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


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

Author: Esmé Bosma (University of Amsterdam) email
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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.

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.

The making of (digital) space for European border security

Author: Paul Trauttmansdorff (University of Vienna) email
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Short abstract

Borders have increasingly been mediated by digital technologies. Examining the massive roll-out of digital borders, relying on sensor systems that collecting data of people on the move can bring to the fore the making of digital space and the digital making of space for European border security.

Long abstract

Since the Schengen agreement, European borders have increasingly been mediated by technologies to regulate cross-border mobility. The massive roll-out of "digital borders" (Broeders 2007), relying on sensor systems collecting data of people on the move, is illustrated by the continuous build-up of large-scale databases, such as the Schengen Information System, Visa Information System, Eurodac, and smart border projects. While mostly focusing on the effects of securitization, academic literature has hardly reflected on the emergence of (transnational) digital space, as both product of and instrument for sociotechnical border governance through means of sensing technologies. This paper addresses two main questions: How have these security systems and actors been involved in the making of a (European) digital space for border politics? And, how has space thereby been imagined in the complex interplay of mobility, security and techno-politics? The paper therefore explores the spatial practices (Harvey 1989/2008) as well as the incorporated imaginaries of space (Jasanoff 2015), performed and enacted by security actors and technologies. Mapping (Clarke 2005) actors/practices involved in the sociotechnical border-projects and qualitatively analyzing policy documents, information and statistical material (Mayring 2000), particularly provided by the European agency for the management of the large-scale IT systems (Eu-LISA), can trace the making of digital space for European border security. I will argue that space-making is an indispensible aspect for any analysis of sensor technologies and, thus, for a better understanding of the co-production of transnational security infrastructures, which I illustrate with the example of the European border regime.

Right engineering for smart infrastructures? Tracing the techno-epistemic network of privacy by design

Authors: Niels van Dijk (Vrije Universiteit Brussel) email
Kjetil Rommetveit (University of Bergen) email
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Short abstract

This paper studies the techno-epistemic network emerging around the idea of designing privacy safeguards into smart ICT infrastructures and its techniques for stabilization and alignment. Through an extended peer consultation, tensions and limits are identified in addressing 'privacy by network'.

Long abstract

The notion of 'privacy by design', the idea of designing privacy safeguards into ICT systems, is increasingly picked up in regulatory agendas and entering legislation, like the new European General Data Protection Regulation. The building of smart, highly interconnected ICT infrastructures (IoT, smart cities, etc.) poses specific challenges to such approaches in scaling up efforts beyond single organizations and technologies and interlinking them. Standardization exercises emerge as a crucial hybrid 'meeting place' for the co-ordination and alignment of the various design approaches, conceptions and expectations of the actors, disciplines and sectors involved. Through the notion of 'privacy by network', this article studies how the concept of privacy becomes itself re-constituted as 'normative transversal' in these processes. It works as a stabilizing promise for networking efforts around responsible smart innovation, but simultaneously catalyzes the uprooting of the notion of privacy from legal settings where it traditionally has been articulated according to established procedures and checks. This paper studies the broader techno-epistemic network emerging around this idea of privacy design, both historically and empirically. We present the findings of an 'extended peer consultation' with representatives of the emerging network and with representatives from communities outside its boundaries, including regulators, entrepreneurs, software engineers, interaction designers, civil rights associations, 'savvy' users, ethical hackers and legal practitioners. This allows sketching the gaps, tensions and limits of these efforts and to identify opportunities for learning.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.