Since the end of the Cold War’s bipolar confrontation in 1991, the security arena has significantly changed from a once well-bounded field, consisting of hierarchically organized state bureaucracies, to a rhizomatic, growing assemblage that merges various kinds of public and private security agencies and activities and is driven by the desire to bring systems together, to combine practices and technologies and integrate them into a larger whole (Haggerty and Ericson 2000). Security has become an important but sensitive issue on political agendas as well as in the public perception. This has resulted in an evolving patchwork of systems, procedures and technologies across multiple sites, public and private, including most urban and international transport infrastructures such as roads, metro systems, rail stations, and sea and air ports. In this article attention will mostly be focused on key European Union and US examples, although a full survey would also need to engage with, among others, Chinese, Russian, Saudi, and Israeli surveillance practices.
Activities In The Field Of Security And Surveillance
One of the results of this transformation is that it has become increasingly unclear who is actually involved in specific security and surveillance tasks. The steadily growing number of surveillance cameras in public streets and places may indicate the globalization of surveillance power. Today, the UK is the world leader in using closed-circuit television (CCTV) to track people’s movements. Surveillance becomes ubiquitous and part of everyday life. Lyon argues that surveillance comes to light when people realize that they are being watched (Lyon 2004). Yet the expansion of surveillance goes well beyond what our eyes tell us. Agencies throughout the world focus on data exchange, compatibility of databases, and thus the interoperability of systems. The systems become more interactive and thus more robust. If one device fails, the likeliness increases that the lost information can be provided by another within the automated socio-technical environments (Lianos and Douglas 2000) in which decisions on actions are pre-determined by technologies such as CCTV, biometric identifiers, smart ID cards, interactive sensory systems, and other devices.
Moreover, digitization permits global real-time availability of information, including archival sources, together with data on current activities and emergent trends. This first came to light in 1996, as European politicians exploded in anger at detailed revelations of the extent of an international spying system named Echelon, created by the leading English-speaking nations (Hager 1996). They particularly feared massive economic espionage. However, international communication satellites had been put into orbit from Europe and elsewhere since the 1980s to facilitate telecommunication links. The so-called UK–USA alliance between the secret intelligence services of the US National Security Agency (NSA) and the British Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) had been extended during the Cold War to the Australian Defence Signals Directorate (DSD), the Canadian Communications Security Establishment (CSE), and the New Zealand Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB). All these agencies set up earth stations to intercept signals from the new electronic communication devices. Echelon was installed to enable intelligence agencies to monitor and analyze civilian communications into the twenty-first century (Campbell 1988). Arguably, it posed less a threat of economic espionage than of the erosion of privacy, and of changing the landscape of the relation between the practice of freedom- and security-related decisions, emanating from governments as well as private surveillance bodies.
Echelon’s giant eavesdropping machinery, run by the NSA at Menwith Hill in Yorkshire, UK, captures and processes virtually every phone call, fax, email, and telex message sent everywhere in the world, with the mission of anticipating security threats. Fragments of communication are trawled out of the ether by all five surveillance centers. Each center is estimated to be able to make a million entries every 30 minutes. Filters that siphon out what is valuable, using artificial intelligence aids, reduce the number to 6,500 entries (Wright 1998). Only 1,000 of these are subsequently judged valuable for further processing and interpretation. NSA staff search for code words in so-called “Echelon dictionaries” provided by each “listening station.” The information is shared among the five partner nations and, if it is decided that it is necessary, with the secret intelligence services of allied nations. It is claimed that a certain proportion of people not suspected of involvement in subverting national security also get routinely scrutinized (Bamford 2001).
The space-time compression of the data revolution enables new, proactive security and surveillance practices. Intelligence scarcely relies any more on counting missile silos and launch pads from aerial reconnaissance, but instead on profiling the personal data of whole populations in the name of preventing and mitigating security threats. There is an increasing demand for private data collected by all kinds of information-gathering agencies. Importantly, security is no longer managed exclusively within the domain of the nation-state. A steadily growing number of new public bodies as well as private commercial agencies have come into operation on sub-state and national levels and across national jurisdictions. From the 1990s onwards, private security firms have expanded to protect major institutions against crime and terrorism, from private premises to rail stations and airports. There are commercial data brokers such as Equifax, LexisNexis, and Choice Point – operating with billions of customer information files on their databases – that sell information not only to business but to government departments and the police.
Moreover, there is a constant growth of privately run international intelligence agencies providing knowledge on international affairs, such as Kroll Inc., Hakluyt (with ongoing links to Britain’s MI6 foreign intelligence agency), and Stratfor. The two latter were founded in the 1990s by ex-operatives of state intelligence agencies and were almost entirely staffed by ex-intelligence people.
Aftermath Of 9/11 In The Us
The disastrous attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon of September 11, 2001, demonstrated that terrorists were able to circumvent law enforcement agencies’ communication technologies and information practices. In their aftermath, western governments proposed new methods to counter terrorism and pushed through antiterrorist legislation overnight that stripped away many limitations on state surveillance. Provisions such as Section 215 of the 2001 US Patriot Act illustrate how 9/11 acted as a catalyst for public–private partnerships in this sphere. The Act enabled investigators to police and govern at long distance by cooperating with high-tech companies such as Acxiom, using the billions of information files provided by retailers, financial institutions, direct marketers, publishers, mail-order services, telecommunication providers, and other companies such as semi-public transport and traffic services.
Thus the law opened up a huge domestic surveillance program that scrutinizes the American population as a whole, on the assumption it will be able to discern the lethal few from the many good (O’Harrow 2005). Some commentators claim that the NSA moved into domestic surveillance even well beyond what is enabled by the Patriot Act. President Bush was determined to sweep away the peacetime rules that had curbed the activities of the US intelligence community since the 1970s, and readily agreed to give the NSA broad new powers, lowering the bar, as Risen (2006) argues, on what is acceptable when it comes to the government’s ability to intrude into the personal lives of average Americans.
There is evidence for the prediction by Gary T. Marx that a paradigmatic American social control model is taking over the western democracies, even if adjusted to the specific contexts, cultures, and needs of other countries (Marx & Fijnaut 1995). Thus the European Union nations were far from laggards in developing their surveillance systems. Although this has never been officially confirmed, under the leadership of France’s foreign intelligence agency, the Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure (DGSE), France began to implement a European counterpart of Echelon with financial support from its equivalents in other member states, such as Germany’s Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND). Moreover, the European integration process has accelerated the establishment of massive transnational information systems across the continent that stem from the removal of borders between member states as well as from an increasingly perceived need for cross-border law enforcement.
The Schengen Information System In Europe
In this context the most important European system is the Schengen Information System (SIS), as its mechanisms impact much of the current security and surveillance developments Security and Surveillance Agencies in the Euro Zone. SIS is a secret database founded on the policy of freedom of movement within Europe, as codified in the 1985 Schengen Agreement Application Convention. Officially facilitating freedom of movement in the so-called Schengen countries, the SIS also ensures control over people’s movements, demonstrating the ambivalence of globalization processes. The imperative of free movement within and across different jurisdictions – seen as the basis for the socio-economic functioning of societies in the twenty-first century (Urry 2000) – generates simultaneously the need for more regulation and intensified border control. “Schengen” includes 13 EU member states plus Norway and Iceland. As part of the Fortress Europe architecture, SIS contains over 17 million entries, with individuals requested for extradition, mentally ill and missing persons, suspects in serious offenses, and so-called unwanted persons making up the great majority of the personal information stored. In 2004 almost 39,000 aliases and 15 million objects belonging to 878,000 people were registered. The UK and Ireland, though not members, participated in law-enforcement aspects of SIS. The network allowed all police stations to access data on specific individuals, vehicles, and property. The exchange of data was administered in each participating country in so-called SIRENE offices (Supplementary Information Request at the National Entry). These offices provide to member states with full access, via the SIRENE system, additional information about individuals registered in the SIS, such as bodily marks, occupation, location, and data on individuals closely related to them (Mathiesen 2006). SIS is accompanied by other systems such as EURODAC (for comparing fingerprints of migrants and refugees) and VIS, advanced software for rapidly accelerating the simultaneous processing of multiple entries, for example bio-informatic data.
Building on this foundation, an SIS II was being planned in the mid-2000s by the European Commission, to provide a new structure and more capacity for information such as biometric identifiers. Further efforts were underway to facilitate cooperation among law-enforcement agencies, intelligence analysis, and data exchange within the police forces of the 27 member states. The European criminal intelligence agency Europol was set up in 1999 to handle international crime such as drug-trafficking, child pornography, money laundering, counterfeiting, cyber-crime, environmental crime, terrorism, and racism (Europol 2004). The Europol Computer Systems (TECS) were available to EU member states and included a central information system on sentenced people and suspected repeat offenders, work files permitting simultaneous processing of around 70 types of personal data, and an index system to facilitate intelligence analysis (Mathiesen 2006).
Expectations For The Future
Given these various information systems, a common aim was to improve cooperation between security and law-enforcement agencies throughout the European Union. With the Prüm Convention of 2005 a further step was made in this direction that illustrated the political process in creating an integrated security regime throughout the EU. Only seven states signed the Treaty. However, unlike the Schengen process, the signatories were willing to play “a pioneering role in establishing the highest possible standard of cooperation especially by means of exchange of information, particularly in combating terrorism, cross-border crime and illegal migration, while leaving participation in such cooperation open to all member states of the European Union” (preamble to Prüm Treaty). Hence, through intergovernmental agreements there was an attempt to push cooperation beyond existing EU legislation.
The basic focus of surveillance and security in the mid-2000s was not on known individuals such as wanted criminals or terrorists, but on the everyday behavior of unknown individuals in the mass. The result of the transformation was a blurring of the lines between national security and public freedoms, between military forces and law enforcement, and last but not least between governmental agencies and private firms. These strategic realignments resulted in the “debordering” of borders, including their control and sorting mechanisms, as they have potentially expanded to every location. Individuals have fewer and fewer avenues to opt out of these systems. With their growing omnipresence, the multiple global dimensions of the new surveillance technologies could scarcely be missed.
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