Wednesday, 20 April 2011

upcoming events and calls for papers

There are quite a few upcoming events around themes of surveillance, privacy, civil liberties, technololgy politics etc.

‘The Future of Expert Evidence’

9 June 2011 at 1.30pm. Queen Mary University of London, Criminal Justice Centre conference. London House, Goodenough College. Programme (pdf)

Sociological Imagination Day School: Social Media and Academic Practice
an as yet undisclosed day in June.
University of Warwick

Statewatching Europe: Civil Liberties, the state and the European Union
Saturday 25 June 2011 (10.00-17.30)
Conway Hall, Red Lion Square, London WC1R 4RL
celebrating Statewatch's 20th anniversary
Programme and Registration form:
Book Online:

“Cultures of Surveillance”: An Interdisciplinary Conference,

sponsored by The Film Studies Space: The Centre for the Cultural History of the Moving Image, UCL (University College London), 29 September - 1 October 2011

Human Security Vs National Security and the implications for Surveillance Studies

A version of this article was originally presented at the 'A Global Surveillance Society?' conference last year. It was written in response to the concept of 'human security' starting to crop up in various places within surveillance studies, potentially as a counter-narrative to national security. Whilst I was sympathetic to this, the term has its own baggage within International Relations which might complicate this usage. I think it's worth highlighting and I'm not really doing much else with the paper, so I'm going to make it available here.


There is an established literature in International Relations Security Studies that investigates the concepts and practices of ‘Human Security’. This idea, stemming from the 1994 UN Human Development report, argues that the realist perception of security as an issue solely involving the interests of nation states is inadequate. This contested concept attempted to bring a range of threats and dangers to human life (poverty, food scarcity, health, environmental degradation, internal political violence and repression) under the ambit of security politics, in an attempt to redress or prevent harm.

Surveillance practices (of the state) are frequently rhetorically justified on the basis of national security. This paper attempts to investigate the implications for research into surveillance from the Human Security perspective and assess the possibilities this perspective offers for countering drives towards increased state surveillance on the basis of national security. The paper is cautious about the potential human security offers in that it risks bringing more issues within a politics of (in)security, and serving potentially as a rhetorical device for security interests.

However, the paper argues that human security might serve the function of raising developmental issues in surveillance studies and drawing attention to the global dimension; a politics of arms and technology transfers and security sales, and the problem of developing states attempting to meet security concerns before issues of welfare, health or education. The paper draws upon international relations, and critical security studies perspectives. Given that both national security and human security can be understood as discourses, the paper draws also draws upon discourse theory. The paper first examines the traditional perspective on security as national security, drawing upon the international relations literature in this area, as well as the perspective on national security that can be drawn out of existing research on surveillance. It identifies a number of ways that the concept of national security has been strongly and thoroughly critiqued from both perspectives, and substantial overlap between the two perspectives in this area. The paper then moves on to present an overview of the concept of human security, its origin and development, including a number of key debates surrounding the concept. This account should be sufficient to serve as a ground from which to examine the potential influences upon surveillance theory. This paper examines the potential for human security to provide a point of interaction between surveillance theory and international relations/international security more broadly; an analytical tool as an alternative way of thinking about security; and as a normative political perspective, from which to resist the expansion of surveillance generated by the privileging of national security. Finding more potential in the former two contributions than the latter, the paper examines ways in which surveillance studies might impact upon human security, and potential alternatives that might serve similar functions for surveillance studies. Whilst human security perspectives might provide surveillance theory with an additional understanding of security, it is argued that a further engagement with other strands of critical security studies might be more productive. As a normative and political device, human security offers little to surveillance theory, whilst bringing with it substantial rhetorical baggage and potential for co-option. As an analytical perspective however, some work in human security can sensitise surveillance studies to the role of international institutions, and to the need to conduct research on empirical experiences of insecurity at the local level.

The paper deliberately adopts a broad, encompassing understanding of the scope of ‘surveillance studies’ as a heterogeneous and interdisciplinary developing field of research. Therefore when writing about the interactions between fields of research, the paper pays attention to both the sensitivities and orientation of its sources, and to where those sources have been located by their authors, and by commentators.

National Security in International Relations and Surveillance Studies

Traditionally, National Security has been understood as ‘the ability to withstand aggression from abroad’ (Luciani, 1989:151), ‘relative freedom from war, coupled with a relatively high expectation that defeat will not be a consequence of any way that should occur’ (Bellamy, 1981:102) and that a nation is secure ‘to the extent to which it is not in danger of having to sacrifice core values if it wishes to avoid war, and is able, if challenged to maintain them by a victory in such a war’ (Walter Lippman, cited in Buzan, 1991:16).

National Security is closely linked with the principle of national sovereignty (Kerr, 2007), the monopoly the state holds on the legitimate exercise of violence within a territory, and a conception of the international order as anarchic, with limited supra-governmental institutions, and dominated by inter-national competition. In IR theory this positions claims the name ‘realism’. The combination of security and the state seemed ‘natural’ for much of the 19th and 20th centuries, becoming contested when social changes drew the justification of the state into question (MacFarlane & Khong, 2006:23). The state was for much of its history conceived of as an answer to individual and group security needs.

The nation-state as an imagined and constructed community, although one with potentially some historical weight behind it, serves as the referent object for security activity. That is to say that the state is the thing to be secured, and that it is the state that experiences insecurity. This activity is primarily couched in the language of war – attack and defence, aggression, defeat and victory. In this conception, national security is primarily a zero-sum situation. Given that to be secure, a state must be capable of defeating its opponents through military activity, then one state gaining such superiority means that other states have lost the capacity. They are now vulnerable. Combine this with the assumption that capacity for defence strongly correlates with capacity for attack, and the result is what traditional international relations has long conceived of as the ‘security dilemma’. This militarised security focuses upon organised violence (rather than the violence of individuals or of structural economic violence), privileges concern with armed threats to and by states. (Herring, 2007:130)

Discourses of National Security are not static and unchanging however. In the terminology of the UK government’s National Security Strategy national security is expanded, whilst providing security for the nation and its citizens remains the most important responsibility of government (Cabinet Office, 2008:3). This concept of security has taken into itself the language of concerns about population that, as shown later in this paper, is at the core of the human security approach. The obligation here is to safeguard the nation, its citizens, ‘our prosperity’ and ‘our way of life’

“The scope and approach of this strategy reflects the way our understanding of national security has changed. In the past, the state was the traditional focus of foreign defence and security policies, and national security was understood as dealing with the protection of the state and its vital interests from attacks by other states. Over recent decades, our view of national security has broadened to includes threats to individual citizens and to our way of life, as well as to the integrity and interests of the state” (Cabinet Office, 2008:3-4).

There is still significant room for critical purchase on this vision of national security. It assumes a unitary homogeneity of ‘our way of life’, claiming the power to speak for the variety of the nation for the government, and playing down internal conflicts about what is the best way for ‘us’ to live ‘our’ live as a collective.

The understanding of national security has also broadened in a number of other ways. The UK national security strategy remarks that no state is seen as directly threatening the UK. There are, however, a diverse range of interconnected threats and risks, including conflicts and failed states , pandemics, international organised crime, climate change, competition for energy (Cabinet Office, 2008:3)

This can be understood as a non-critical broadening, that simply brings a wider range of threats into the ambit of security politics, without challenging the way in which that politics is conducted, what the distribution of power is, which actors are involved, and what measures are taken to gain security. For example, environmental security is increasingly becoming an issue. However, if this only encompasses preparing to fight the next world war over water supplies, or anticipating destabilisation and war as a result of population migrating in the face of rising sea levels (Homer-Dixon, 1991 & 1994) it fails to escape the paradigm of traditional national security thinking. Alternative ways of framing these issues are lost (Waever, 1995)

Whilst a distinction can be drawn between national security and homeland security - the latter being a subset of the former, specifically focused upon the protection of national territory from terrorism but expanding to incorporate a diverse range of threats (Wilkinson, 2007:) - the two terms are similar enough, especially in contrast to Human Security, as to be considered together in this paper.

Surveillance studies has engaged with the concept of national security, and the role of both the nation state, and the demands of security have played in the development and functioning of surveillance practices. It is clear that the state is no longer the sole agent of surveillance (if it ever was), and not all state surveillance is motivated by national security concerns (Whitaker, 1999:29). It is not controversial however to identify the state, and its national security concerns as important nodes in many a surveillant assemblage. Nor is this to argue that the state is monolithic and homogeneous, rather that government occurs across a range of actors and institutions, drawn together by shared discourses and mentalities of government (Dean, 2010). This very perspective further serves to deconstruct the concept of a single, cohesive ‘national security’, and focus our attention on the way that security threats and the privileged responses to those threats are constructed. National security can then be seen as a particular discourse – a mentality structuring the activity of government.

Graham (2006) argues that military power is an often neglected domain in surveillance studies, and that military surveillance is often seen as disconnected from sociological surveillance. Webster (2003) argues that the ‘leading edge of surveillance’ is the state in pursuit of its security concerns, attempting to watch the enemy (with or without), and that the most sophisticated surveillance technologies emerge from the military domain. Similarly, Dandeker has shown how historically, the armed services are in the vanguard of developments of surveillance, with the military serving as a model for other forms of administrative power (1990; 2007:225). However this inspiration moves both ways with militaries increasingly looking towards the private sector for knowledge, technology and services.

Lyon argues that military demands for discipline and intelligence have been one of the major ‘tributaries’ of the spread of global surveillance, and that the mobilisation of the population for large scale war had numerous spin off measures carried over to the general peacetime population (2007:29). In an age of information technology the policing of urban areas takes inspiration from military techniques (Haggerty & Ericson, 2001), whilst attempts to deal with numerous social problems take on the language of ‘war on’. Lyon states that:

“It takes little imagination to see that in North America and Europe, particularly post 9/11 developments in national security have tilted surveillance sharply towards control in a number of areas.” (Lyon, 2007:133)

National security initiatives, such as the USA PATRIOT act in the USA, have clearly had major implications for surveillance. USA PATRIOT, For example, expanded the remit of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, introduced delayed notice search warrants and extended the use of National Security Letters – providing the executive with greatly expanded surveillance powers under the rubric of national security (Donohue, 2008:233). Furthermore, a range of intelligence agencies have expanded their domestic surveillance. As well as re-framing legal systems, the demands of national security can have a constitutive and forming effect on developments in technology and science. As P.W. Singer shows in ‘Wired for War’, national security agencies such as the Department of Defence, DARPA and the Office of Naval Research have played significant roles in funding and encouraging research activity and technology development in the field of robotics, which includes the development of unmanned aerial surveillance drones (Singer, 2009: 140-143)

Surveillance studies is well positioned to understand that states themselves are often the perpetrators of violence and the cause of the insecurity of their population. Populations subjected to social sorting, or the criminal justice system can be placed in a position of fundamental uncertainty and vulnerability. Finn has demonstrated individuals’ identities as threats to national security can change depending on the deployment of data as part of the National Security Entry-Exit registration system (NSEERS) established in 2002 in the US (Finn, 2005). These insecurities need not be driven by national security imperatives. For example, Gillom has shown how restrictive welfare programmes coupled with tight surveillance of recipients can lead to substantial economic hardship and insecurity (2006).

The concept of human security is one of a range of responses to the inadequacy of traditional models of human security. It is related to, but not congruent with other attempts to broaden the scope of security studies within international relations (Krause & Williams, 1996). The principle characteristics of the position, some of its key debates and its impacts are outlined below.

The Human Security approach

In 1994, the United Nations Human Development Programme published its report ‘New Dimensions of Human Security’. This report argued:

“The concept of security has for too long been interpreted narrowly: as security of territory from external aggression, or as protection of national interests in foreign policy or as global security from the threat of a nuclear holocaust. It has been related more to nation-states than to people. The superpowers were locked in an ideological struggle - fighting a cold war all over the world. The developing nations, having won their independence only recently, were sensitive to any real or perceived threats to their fragile national identities. Forgotten were the legitimate concerns of ordinary people who sought security in their daily lives. For many of them, security symbolized protection from the threat of disease, hunger, unemployment, crime, social conflict, political repression and environmental hazards.” (UNHDP, 1994: 22)

The report highlighted four essential characteristics of human security. It was a universal concept, applicable to all people, in all nations. Its component parts were interdependent, with dangers not limited by national borders. Human security was seen as easier to achieve through prevention rather than later intervention. Finally, human security was people centred. Whilst acknowledging linkages between the two, the report drew a clear distinction between human security and human development.

“Human development is a broader concept-defined in previous Human Development Reports as a process of widening the range of people's choices. Human security means that people can exercise these choices safely and freely - and that they can be relatively confident that the opportunities they have today are not totally lost tomorrow.” (UNHDP, 1994:23)

Furthermore, the report identified two components of human security, the ‘freedom from fear’, and the ‘freedom from want’, and argued that whilst both of these components had been part of the UN mission from its origin, organisational priorities had been tilted in favour of the former at the expense of the latter. Human Security was part of an attempt to redress this imbalance.

Human security securitises as it broadens its scope, not only making the individual the referent of security rather than the state, but identifying a broader range of issues as security threats, beyond violent aggression (Newman, 2010: 81).

The human security approach has not fully rejected the relevance of state-centric arguments, and the importance of protecting the state from external military violence, but rather posits that these considerations are not the sole considerations of security, or that indeed they should be dominant (Kerr, 2007). The 1994 report introduced the idea, with potentially wide ranging implications, that a secure state, as traditionally conceived, could still be inhabited by insecure people (Thomas & Tow, 2002:178)

“the primary objective of human security is not to enhance state centric security per se, but rather to ensure that people do not suffer from those version of state security that ignore internal violence and its causes.” (Kerr, 2007: 101)

In ideal circumstances, the state acts as guarantor of human security, but the approach recognises that this is not always the case.

Human Security is not a cohesive and complete doctrine. There are multiple theoretical origins and multiple interpretations of the approach. The former include the natural rights and the rule of law traditions, and humanitarian initiatives. The latter are customarily defined as the narrow and broad approaches to human security. The 1990s and early 2000s saw a continued debate about the extent to which security politics could be broadened.

The broad school of human security encompasses the full range of security threats from the 1994 UNHDP report and occasionally more than this, whilst the narrower approach attempts to limit what can be understood as security issues. Debates about the extent of security, and how the various concerns of human security could be considered security issues encompassed a demand for analytical clarity contrasted against a desire not to exclude important political issues. The assumption here was that a narrow definition would favour state interests over those of people. Critics of the broad approach argued that it allowed no way to make policy decisions – if all issues were security issues, then how could any particular issues be prioritised, and how would the theory provide any guidance for action.

Thomas and Tow, amongst others, argued that a more narrowly defined conception of Human Security would have more analytic and policy value (2002:178). Human Security allows the transcendence of sovereign prerogatives and allows actors to more effectively address trans-regional threats. They argued that an issue should be considered a human security threat when its implications cross borders, with internal issues best considered as development concerns. They argue that a fundamental requirement is that human security must provide ‘tangible threat parameters against which relative security environments and situations can be measured’ (2002:181). Their approach has been strongly criticised by Bellamy and McDonarld as being largely inconsistent with the normative agenda inspiring human security approaches, retaining the state as the main referent of security, and risking any emancipatory potential in the discourse. For Bellamy and McDonald, ‘policy relevance’ is problematic, allowing realist ontology and the pre-eminence of states in policy making, to trump concerns of individual security (2002:373)

“A discourse of human security that does not delegitimize states when they act as agents of human insecurity, does not de-value sovereignty when it protects the perpetrators of human wrongs, or does not challenge the moral value of an international economic system and structure of states that creates and perpetuates most of the globe’s insecurity has, at best, a very limited utility. At worst, it helps to sustain the very practices and structures that cause human insecurity in the first place.” (Bellamy & McDonald, 2002:375-6).

Newman argued for the explicit normative stance of the human security approach, which would sit poorly with a limited perspective solely focused upon the utility of the theory to the security practices of states:

“Human security is normative; it argues that there is an ethical responsibility to re-orient security around the individual in line with internationally recognised standards of human rights and governance. Much human security scholarship is therefore explicitly or implicitly underpinned by a solidarist commitment, and some is cosmopolitan in ethical orientation” (Newman, 2010:78)

Impact of Human Security

The human security perspective would have limited use outside of academia if it was an unsupported and un-adopted perspective. For it to have relevance for surveillance studies is partly contingent upon it having some impact in policy communities and in international organisations. Therefore, a brief examination of the impact of the human security perspective is in order. Ewan argues that:

“Since the publication of the United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Report 1994 (UNDP, 1994), the term ‘human security’ has been associated with a potentially transformative project that deconstructs traditional national security discourses and practices and seeks to reinvent the theory and practice of security.” (Ewan, 2007:182).

Similarly, the UNDP itself was an attempt to shift the post-cold war focus of development away from simple indicators of GDP. Osler Hampson argues that the debates around human security echoed their contextual milieu, with uncertainty about the international environment and the role of international institutions at the end of the Cold War (Osler Hampson, 2007) and the erosion of the narrow state-centric paradigm in policy and academic circles (Newman, 2010:78)

The primary organisational incarnation of the Human security approach is the Human Security Network ( It does not have a very large membership, and is composed of thirteen of what the international relations literature deigns to call ‘middle power states’ such as Norway and Canada. Initially supporting both the freedom from fear and the freedom from want agendas, the HSN fell back to focusing upon Freedom from Fear in 1999. In an examination of the Human Security Network, Agathangelou and Ling (2004), found that whilst the language of the HSN included both concepts, its policy objectives tended towards the narrower end of the human security spectrum, including a focus upon light weapon proliferation and land mind. The Human Security Network has been involved in the Ottawa convention on anti-personnel land mines and the establishment of the International Criminal Court. They also find that ‘the discourse and practice of human security is now a durable feature of the international landscape, in part due to the efforts of the HSN.” (2004:66)

Benedek is broadly positive about the impact of the human security approach on international law. He argues that the ideals of human security have influenced a wide range of treaties, brought about normative changes in the international legal order, and been influential in the activities of government departments, research centres, and human rights groups (2008:11). Thomas and Tow see that human security has been part of a wider ‘embedded humanitarianism’ with the UN (2002:180) whilst Owen finds that the concept has ‘permeated virtually all aspects of post- Cold War discourse on international security’, however, it has failed to enter into the policy or theory mainstream (Owen, 2008: 113).

Clearly, the United Nations, and specific UN bodies such as UNHDP, UNESCO and the UN University are key actors in this field. Owens argues that the UN has acted as an ‘incubator’ for human security at the institutional level (Owen, 2008:113). However he also finds that support for the concept has reduced over time since its introduction, due to the dominance of traditional security thinking, the reluctance of many states to support human security, and also the failure to clearly articulate what is meant by security. Owen provides a chronology of the use of the term human security in UN documents and speeches by secretary generals, and finds that its use had waned considerably, suggesting that the concept had somewhat fallen out of favour by 2005 (Owen, 2008: 113). Human security also plays a role in EU security policy, the Barcelona Study group report in 2004 proposed a ‘Human Security Doctrine for Europe.

It is arguable that the human security approach has had more impact on an institutional and policy level than any other critical security perspectives. However it has been argued that this has come at a cost. In the search for policy relevance on the part of practitioners, non-governmental organisations and human security academics, and in wishing not to alienate policy-makers, Newman argues that human security has not pushed its core commitments in a sufficiently critical direction. He also examines the scepticism towards human security by critical security scholars who are concerned the perspective might be a hegemonic and co-opted discourse. Human Security is situated with ‘problem solving’ research and researchers rarely engage in epistemological, ontological or methodological debates, limiting the development of the field (Newman, 2010: 77). This illustrates a tension in all research with potential policy relevance, and a set of decisions that must be made in varying fields, and by individual researchers far beyond human security. A knee-jerk critical stance may result in isolation from policy fields where decisions are made despite the critique, whilst engagement runs the risk of having to frame questions and responses in terms that are intelligible to dominant mentalities of government.

‘Utility’ of Human Security to Surveillance Studies

There are three areas in which human security might interact productively with surveillance studies. These are the use of human security discourse as a normative political stance; the use of human security as an analytic tool to further surveillance research and add conceptual tools; and finally using human security as a point of interaction with security studies, and international relations more broadly. These are examined in turn.

Normative position

Assuming national security logics and discourses drive a substantial amount of contemporary surveillance practices, could a shift towards a human security model either reduce that drive, or even encourage a reduction in socially harmful surveillance practices? Human security appears to have laudable normative goals associated with the lived daily lives of all people around the world, and can serve as a reminder of the importance of universal norms. As a concept it has achieved a degree of institutional buy-in and support rarely seen in other non-traditional understandings of security politics. Might such an approach provide an alternative rhetorical strategy for those concerned by the proliferation of national security initiatives, and the permeation of national security discourse through all layers of society?

Of the seven strands of human security, it is ‘political security’ that seems to offer the most to the normative anti-surveillance campaigner. The 1994 UNHDP report argued that ‘one of the most important aspects of human security is that people should be able to live in a society that honours their basic human rights’ (UNHDP, 1994:32). Political Security also includes protection against state repression, the recognition that police forces are often agents of repression, and that governments may seek to exercise control over ideas and information. One of the indicators of human insecurity in the report is the proportion of government expenditure on policing and armed forces in contrast to other sectors of government. A strong component of political security therefore seems to offer protection against surveillant infringement of human rights.

However, the rhetorical potential of the discourse should not be over-estimated. It has had limited impact beyond the United Nations, which also seems to be distancing itself from the phrase. The concept has been in existence for sixteen years. The terminology brings with it an institutional baggage, an association with interventionist policies in some parts of the world, and is widely understood as being conceptually diffuse. Existing actors may therefore have their own idiosyncratic interpretation of what human security means. Understanding ‘human security’ as a floating signifier should caution us as to the possibility of it being re-articulated in different ways as part of a diverse range of political projects. Furthermore, the limited critical potential of human security, as discussed by Newman and others, may limit its applicability for some within the surveillance studies community.

The very aim of human security discourse is to motivate existing actors that make a claim to provide security to address themselves to a range of different concerns that are normally outside of their purview. It is an attempt to allow non-traditional security issues such as the environment and health to compete for more policy attention and resources (MacFarlane & Khong, 2006:227) Human security discourse retains a central role for the state in the provision of security. This is combined with the ‘obligation to protect’ the concept that national sovereignty is made conditional upon the security of the population. Add in to this mix a development trajectory in which the use of up to date technologies of government and security is seen as a sign of a modern, effective state, and the stage is potentially set for a state to move exactly the same tools and strategies that it has used in pursuit of national security into the field of human security. Raising the profile of human security might simple create another market for the vendors of surveillance technologies to move into. Elden’s analysis of Foucault’s account of plague and the clinic provides a clear example of the operation of surveillance in the name of what could be interpreted as ‘Health Security’ (Elden, 2003). Lyon suggests a close relation between politicians and technology corporations. The political economy of this allows politicians to been seen as active and responding, whilst technology companies provide high technology solutions (Lyon, 2007:195). The extent to which human security has been able to move resources away from national security is an empirical question, but appears limited. A security technology designed for human security might appear and function differently to one designed for national security, however human security might simply be an addition to an already existing project. The unintended consequences are likewise unknown.

MacFarlane and Khong caution that one of the dangers of the human security approach (and with all attempts to apply the label of ‘security’ to other issues) is that it can lead to militarised solutions to non-military problems (2006:238). Terming an issue a security issue, even a human security issue, suggests that certain agencies, with characteristic methodologies should be oriented towards the issue. In governmentality theory, critical attention should be paid to the construction of political problems, as these constructions often delimit the space of potential solutions. Problematisations are made on the basis of particular regimes of thought, forms of knowledge and languages (Dean, 2010:38) MacFarlane and Kong also argue that discourses of human rights and civil liberties have had significant achievements without making use of the ‘security’ label (2006:258). To reply upon such a label might be to operate in a discursive field already structured by a near-hegemonic discourse, and to apply the techniques of ‘security’ to concerns we can understanding in terms of ‘hunger’, ‘poverty’ or ‘repression’. Benedek argues that human security, human rights and human development all have strong overlaps due to their common source in the importance of human dignity. Therefore the best way to achieve a the goals of human security is through the full and holistic realisation of human rights (Benedek, 2008:13)

Unfortunately, there can be no a priori assessment of the results of a normative use of human security discourse. However, it could be the case that a model that was inherently grounded upon the concerns of large parts of the population, rather than narrow state concerns could be more emancipatory than an uncontested discourse of paramount national security and war on terror . The intrinsically broader referent of human security might enable us to avoid the closed world of national security, which is traditional opaque and removed from normal channels of political accountability, particularly with regard to counter-terrorism.

Analytical Tool

A human security perspective also provides an alternative focus for security studies with sympathy towards surveillance studies. Human security highlights a blind spot in traditional approaches to security. Fierke argues that rather than trying to fix a definition we need to pay attention to how human insecurity is produced in practice (2007:147). This would be a greater focus upon those most insecure in the international system; bringing into surveillance studies a greater indigenous perspective on security, rather than a top-down focus predicated upon the security needs, insecurities and activities of the nation state. In essence this echoes substantial calls for a greater understanding of the lived experience of being under surveillance, but in this case, as part of a wider understanding of experiences of human insecurity, and from an international perspective.

A global survey conducted by the Human Security Centre/IPSOS-Reid in 11 countries found that crime and terrorism were not the biggest concern for people across the world. Social and economic issues took precedence, whilst the concerns highlighted in the survey also frequently differed from the priorities of those citizen’s governments. (Human Security Centre, 2005:50).

Key principles in human development include a bottom-up approach, partnerships, local ownership and participation. It is arguable that these should apply more to security policy as well. Kaldor argues that including those affected by violence and insecurity is both a moral issue and an effectiveness issue. An attitude of communication, collaboration and dialogue, rather than ‘we know best’, as well as an awareness of gender issues, is a requirement of a human security approach (Kaldor, 2007:189). These goals are also echoed in the Barcelona study group report.

Does the Human security approach offer anything further for understanding surveillance, beyond this injunction to understand the local? This author is sceptical about the potential here. As discussed previously, human security has not developed a particularly strong set of theoretical concepts, suffers from somewhat fuzzy concepts, and can lead to causal confusion regarding the causes of human insecurity (MacFarlane and Khong, 2006). It does however, highlight that national security discourse is not the only security discourse in operation in international politics. Human security has been strongly critiqued as an act of ‘securitization’. In the securitization model of the Copenhagen school in International Relations, issues fall into three types: non political, politicized, and securitized. Non-political issues are not seen as requiring state intervention and are not frequently included in public debate. Political issues are resolved through normal governmental mechanisms, whilst securitized issues require urgent action beyond standard political practices (Buzan, Waever & de Wilde, 1998:23). Securitization is the rhetorical act by which a political issue is articulated as an existential threat. A successful securitization involves the acceptance of such a threat, and of the use of special measures. It can be related to Agamben’s concept of the state of exemption (2005) and is a critical concept because if demonstrates how debate around certain issues is closed down, and specific strategies and responses are selected. By making humanitarian or development issues into security issues, the language has the potential to move these issues out of the realm of contestable, open and democratic politics.

It is therefore possible that the critique of human security discourse, from a critical security studies perspective is a more important contribution to surveillance studies, than is human security itself. Buzan (2004) argues that human security’s critical insights are already encompassed by the Copenhagen school of international relations concept of societal security. Attempting to compare and potentially combine the work of human security and critical security studies, Newman (2010) argues that human security must go beyond its relatively uncritical position if it is to make a lasting impact.

Point of Interaction with International Relations and (critical) Security Studies

Theoretically, taking on board elements of the human security perspective in surveillance theory has some potential to act as a stepping off point for a fruitful cross-fertilisation of surveillance studies and security studies as part of the broader discipline of international relations.

Surveillance studies has yet to substantially engage with many of the structures and institutions of international governance. Whilst there are accounts of surveillance which focus upon warfighting and the use of surveillance systems in conflicts (Graham, 2006), there are fewer accounts of surveillance at an international level in the more routine activity of international governance – for example the various agencies and bodies of the United Nations. An attention to human security necessarily invites a greater engagement with this level of analysis. Thomas (2000:9) suggests that Human Security it useful if it draws our attention towards the system, and the importance of scrutinising global processes. Surveillance studies can profitably engage with issues at the international level of analysis as shown by Stanton’s work on the role of the International Civil Aviation Authority on the spread of biometric passports (Stanton, 2008).

MacFarlane and Khong argue that the vast majority of international security analysts and researchers continue to think and write in national security terminology. Critical security studies is, at times, far from the mainstream of security studies. National security approaches dominate key journals and have attempted to exert an ‘inclusionary control’ of broadening agendas in security studies (2006:234). For example, underdevelopment is seen primarily as a cause of conflict, and responded to through strategic or military defences against that conflict.

An area where surveillance studies and international relations can fruitfully interact is the question of borders. Borders in a non-militarised sense seem oddly lacking from international relations, which in its traditional form assumes a relatively homogeneous state interacting with others. This interaction occurs at a political level, which tends to obscure the day to day operation, construction, and policing of international borders. The location of a border becomes an issue of international relations, in a way that its functioning is not. Surveillance studies has on the other hand paid substantial attention to the operation of the border (Zureik & Salter: 2005, Bigo:2006). In an age of hyper-mobility for a kinetic elite, combined with an assumption that mobility and fluidity are vital for economic growth even in an age of terrorism, the border becomes a site of modulated control and the management of flows, a site of substantial social sorting. This includes data sharing agreements between states and an increasing move to conducting the sorting ‘upstream’ from the border (Lyon, 2007:132). The differential permeability of the border and the technologically-assisted social sorting that occurs there have implications for human security.


This paper has aimed to provide an overview of the discourse of Human Security, and to examine what potential interactions there might be between human security, and the wider field of international relations security studies, and the field of surveillance studies. The paper set out an account of the traditional national security discourse from both an IR and a surveillance studies perspective, and how human security emerged in the 1990s as a response to the perceived failings of this dominant discourse. It then assessed the impact of Human security, and found that although it had achieved some impact on international policy, perhaps more than any other critical security studies approach, it has not moved national security from the dominant position, and seemed to be falling from favour even in its institutional incubators. In assessing the potential roles that human security could play in contributing to surveillance studies this paper found that it’s normative and rhetorical value was ambiguous. The terminology of human security brings institutional baggage, continues to securitize, and is a security discourse that could potentially be articulated in such a way as to legitimise and encourage state and military surveillance activity. This paper argues that a concentration on human rights would match most of the potential of human security without this concern. A further alternative approach would be De Lint and Virta’s argument for ‘security in ambiguity’ (2004) which advocates the ongoing re-politicisation of security, in which security politics is constantly pulled back into the realm of political contestation. Analytically, the concept does draw attention to competing discourses of security at the international level, it also supports a focus upon those experiencing insecurity in the world. However, the theoretical potential of the concept is lacking in comparison to other critical security approaches. The paper also finds that there is room for surveillance studies to engage with the international level of analysis, with the functioning of international organisations, and with critical security studies more broadly.


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