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New challenges to the security vs freedom equation

In recent years, several technological advances have impacted the way security practices occur in Europe and have brought new challenges to the security vs freedom equation. Increasing robotisation and automation, mounting use of digital metadata, growing reliance upon signal intelligence and web-based profiling, and advances in face-recognition devices, are some of the practices that are changing the way security is practiced. Technological developments with ramifications into the security domain defy our understandings of time and space, and pose new challenges to our societies. Who do we target when we want to respond to a cyber-attack? What are the ethical considerations behind the use of semi- and full-autonomous weapons? How can law respond to technological developments? How can privacy be maintained in an era of mass-surveillance?

These practices pose serious questions about the democratic legitimacy of highly sensitive policies and about the role of the governments that ultimately are responsible for them. Yet, at the same, they open up the question of whether ‘traditional’ democratic as well as legal oversight requires artificial intelligence expertise to seriously instantiate effective checks and balances. These dynamics are certainly not new, as the pursuit of security has always triggered technological developments and used cutting-edge scientific knowledge. Yet, over the last decades, additional challenges were brought by the technology-security nexus’ approximation to the private sector and to the latter’s increasingly important role in security provision and governance. Authors looking into particular EU security/ised issues have problematized the role of private actors, expert bureaucrats, and novel forms of policy-making based on technocratic regulation where the governance of security escapes democratic control.

Implications for research

In front of new technical conditions of possibility, policy makers, expert bodies, intelligence operatives and forensic investigators both bring the practice of security to the borders of the legal, and exploit the grey areas in which law and regulation have not yet accompanied the technological developments. From a scholarly perspective, this has implications for criminology, constitutional theory, political theory, human geography, law and fundamental rights, and security studies more broadly.

INTERSECT aims to explore these dynamics. It will map the main developments currently taking place in Europe in fields such as surveillance, public-private relations and hybrid rule, cybersecurity, drones, data retention, or suspect profiling, to name but a few, and will investigate them from several theoretical angles. It will devote attention to areas such as border surveillance and security, counter-terrorism, urban planning and criminal investigation. The network has also the underlying objective of raising public awareness of these practices that normally are implemented without any kind of public scrutiny.
These objectives require theoretical and empirical input from diverse angles. The structure of the network, as well as the individuals and institutions that have already agreed to participate in it, reflect the intention of approaching the topic from different perspectives and a willingness to engage the civil society. The output plan described below outlines INTERSECT’s dissemination strategies.