Panel discussion on Digital Surveillance and Democracy

  • Event

Rethinking National Security, Secrecy and Intelligence Governance

The revelations by Edward Snowden in 2013 and subsequent inquiries have highlighted how Western intelligence agencies use the potential of digital surveillance. Agencies like the US-American NSA, the British GCHQ or the German BND are part of transnational intelligence networks that collect and exchange data on a massive scale. Within these agencies, tech savvy security professionals use algorithmic analytics to make sense of the large data sets, for example to determine who is a citizen or a non-citizen, and what counts as suspicious behavior.

In the light of large-scale, algorithmic and transnationally connected surveillance by intelligence agencies, the question arises if we need to re-interpret the relations of categories underpinning modern democracies such as national security, civil liberties, oversight, separation of powers, and rule of law. Concerns over technologically advanced surveillance often translate into dystopian visions of our democratic fate. Examples are references to totalitarianism in the manner of George Orwell’s 1984, to the idea of “post-democracy”, or warnings against a rising “algogracy”. But has the perceived responsibility to protect democratic societies through surveillance already turned into an existential threat to democracy, or do we need a more nuanced approach? Can social scientists offer alternative problematizations of secret, digital surveillance in order to understand the challenges that arise for democratic societies? How can democratic societies address the gap between complex, transnational surveillance on the one hand and resource-poor, national oversight on the other? These questions were discussed on the public panel discussion at Berlin Social Science Center WZB on 13 May 2019 at 18:30h with GUARDINT team members Prof. Claudia Aradau, Prof. Didier Bigo and Dr. Thorsten Wetzling. The event was moderated by Prof. Jeanette Hofmann, WZB.