Category Archives: Security

CFP: Spatial Big Data & Everyday Life (AAG 2015)

Call for Papers: Spatial Big Data & Everyday Life
American Association of Geographers Annual Meeting
21-25 April 2015

Agnieszka Leszczynski, University of Birmingham
Jeremy Crampton, University of Kentucky
“What really matters about big data is what it does” (Executive Office of the President, 2014: 3).

Many disciplines, including the economic and social sciences and (digital) humanities, have taken up Big Data as an object and/or subject of research (see Kitchin 2014). As a significant proportion of Big Data productions are spatial in nature, they are of immediate interest to geographers (see Graham and Shelton 2013). However, engagements of Big Data in geography have to date been largely speculative and agenda-setting in scope. The recently released White House Big Data report encourages movement past deliberations over how to define the phenomenon towards identifying its material significance as Big Data are enrolled and deployed across myriad contexts – for example, how content analytics may open new possibilities for data-based discrimination. We convene this session to interrogate and unpack how Big Data figure in the spaces and practices of everyday life. In so doing, we are questioning not only what Big Data ‘do,’ but also how it is they realize particular kinds of effects and potentialities, and how the lived reality of Big Data is experienced (Crawford 2014).

We invite papers along methodological, empirical, and theoretical interventions that trace, reconceptualize, or address the everyday spatial materialities of Big Data. Specifically we are interested in how Big Data emerge within particular intersections of the surveillance, military, and industrial complexes; prefigure and produce particular kinds of spaces and subjects/subjectivities; are bound up in the regulation of both space and spatial practices (e.g., urban mobilities); underwrite intensifications of surveillance and engender new surveillance regimes; structure life opportunities as well as access to those opportunities; and/or change the conditions of/for embodiment. We intend for the range of topics and perspectives covered to be open. Other possible topics include:

• spatial Big Data & affective life
• embodied Big Data; wearable tech; quantified self
• algorithmic geographies, algorithmic subjects
• new ontologies & epistemologies of the subject
• spatial Big Data as surveillance
• Big Data and social (in)equality
• “ambient government” & spatial regulation
• spatial Big Data and urbanisms (mobilities; smart cities)
• political/knowledge economies of (spatial) Big Data

We welcome abstracts of no more than 250 words to be submitted to Agnieszka Leszczynski ( and Jeremy Crampton ( by August 29th, 2014.

Crawford K (2014) The Anxieties of Big Data. The New Inquiry.

Executive Office of the President (2014) Big Data: Seizing Opportunities, Preserving Values. The White House.

Graham M and Shelton T (2013) Guest editors, Dialogues in Human Geography 3 (Geography and the future of big data, big data and the future of geography).

Kitchin R (2014) Big Data, new epistemologies and paradigm shifts. Big Data and Society (1): In Press. DOI: 10.1177/2053951714528481.


Contractor receives $400K federal funds for automatic license plate reading

According to reporting by Bloomsberg News the IRS, the Forest Service and the U.S. Air Force’s Air Combat Command have awarded a contractor over $400,000 in contracts for its automated licence plate recognition (ALPR) system since 2009.

It’s not clear if the contracts to Vigilant Solutions are ongoing, given the context that Homeland Security dropped similar plans in February of this year following widespread opposition form civil liberties groups.

“Especially with the IRS, I don’t know why these agencies are getting access to this kind of information,” said Jennifer Lynch, a senior staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco-based privacy-rights group. “These systems treat every single person in an area as if they’re under investigation for a crime — that is not the way our criminal justice system was set up or the way things work in a democratic society.”

Other countries (including the UK) have long had such systems in place.

If you go to the Vigilant website they have a long complaining blog post about the lies and distortions by civil liberties groups:

License plate readers are under siege nationwide, thanks to a well-funded, well-coordinated campaign launched by civil liberties groups seeking to take advantage of the growing national debate over surveillance. 

Unfortunately, the campaign led by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has deliberately clouded and even omitted those facts.

According to this article, Vigilant actually successfully used the First Amendment to overturn an anti license-plate recognition law in Utah:

Vigilant Solutions and DRN [Digital Recognition Network] sued the state of Utah on constitutional grounds, arguing that the law infringed on the First Amendment right to take photographs of public images in public places, a right that everyone in Utah shares.

The law was overturned, but Vigilant com,plains that state agencies were then barred from using any of the data collected, impacting their profits. They also complain about data retention limits.

What’s also interesting about companies such as this is that they illustrate the argument for understanding policing and military together (see this blog post by Derek Gregory for example).

Security and resilience


The journal Politics which is published by the Political Studies Association, has a new open access issue on resilience and security. The issue was edited by three people at Warwick University, James Brassett, Stuart Croft, and Nick Vaughan-Williams with whom I was not previously familiar.

I look forward to perusing this in detail soon, but it’s worth noting one thing here. The editors open by claiming there’s a kind of gap or slippage in how “resilience” as a concept is put into play (a productive gap they claim). As I noted earlier this year in reply to Mark Neocleous’s anti-resilience piece (with an open access follow-up in Society and Space here), if we are to make anything useful with the concept of resilience, then we need to understand how it can improve human well-being (as well as the related question of well-being for whom).

It looks on initial inspection as if the issue is more concerned with resilience than security, but it is good to see the two terms being put together. Pete Adey, Klaus Dodds and I have a cfp on (post)-security and sustainability that is relevant here. Despite the prevalence of “critical security studies” these three terms are rarely placed in conjunction.

(Via Stuart Elden)

cfp: AAG Tampa 2014: “What Space for the Post-Security State?”

AAG 2014 CFP

 “What Space for the Post-Security State?”

 Tampa, Florida, 8-12 April 2014

 Session organizers: Jeremy Crampton, University of Kentucky, Klaus Dodds, Peter Adey (Royal Holloway University of London)

 Session sponsored by the Political Geography Specialty Group

This session takes up recent challenges to the logics of security (Neocleous, Vine, the CASE Collective), and seeks papers that open up new ways of thinking about security through critiques, oppositions, limits, resistances, or different kinds of security altogether (e.g. alter-security).

The goal is to collectively sketch the contours of a possible “post-security” state in which security’s costs as well as its benefits are more critically understood. Where today’s security is usually positioned as “more is better” and “safer rather than sorry”, our goal is not to necessarily reject security, but rather to identify a range of different interventions, critiques (perhaps “affirmative” McCormack, 2012), alternatives, that might think with security in productive ways or, indeed, new ways.

Our agenda is to seek positions that are not always outside or external to security apparatus, or so unaware of their location that the where of security is lost. We seek perspectives that unsettle the relationship between security and the state, such as its (potentially ever greater) privately administered projects and outsourcing. What manners of security are possible that might be creative hybrids of the state-private-communal spectrum?  Can we identify alternative propositions to the pernicious investment of what Paul Amar has called the “human-security state” (Amar 2013), legitimized by appropriating a more progressive religious, gender, class and sexual politics?

Examples of possible paper topics include:

–ways in which the national security state is itself inherently insecure as evidenced through “moles,” spies, whistleblowing and “insider threats” such as Manning and Snowden;

–the environmental costs of security installations;

–the economic costs of security;

–military resource extraction;

–properties of violence (Correia, 2013);

–military landscapes;

–geographies of “baseworld”

–borderland securitization struggles;

–the admixtures of race, gender and rural-urban relations in modern incarceration regimes;

–health impacts of security including an estimated half million Americans with PTSD;

–“big data” and surveillance;

–histories of the security and surveillant state;

–private security and security outsourcing (security beyond the state);

–the sustainability of current practices of security or vulnerability and resilience to security.

– new languages or grammars of security and post-security

We seek papers that will address any of these or other related topics we have not listed. If in doubt, please contact us!

Our session deliberately seeks to continue and deepen interdisciplinary exchanges, and we welcome contributions from geography, political science, economics; sociology, environmental science, international relations, political sociology, psychology, computer science, the creative arts, and history.

If you are interested in participating, please submit an abstract of no more than 250 words to Jeremy Crampton ( The conference discounted registration ends on October 23, 2013. For more information please see

Society & Space piece on security

My piece “Is Security Sustainable?” has just appeared in Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, Vol 31(4).

If you’re outside the academic fire curtain or don’t want to read the whole thing my basic question is whether  the security we have now is sustainable in the long run, and at what cost. Rather than taking a “all security is good security” approach I ask what our current security surveillant state is costing us in terms of:

–Dollar amount (estimates go as high as $1T per year);
–Physical and mental health (of those charged with enabling security such as PTSD and amputations, but also health of those “living under drones”);
–Environmental costs.

I argue we are very far from knowing the answers to these costs, or even of identifying consensual ways to measure them. The piece is part of an ongoing project, but was occasioned by the Edward Snowden news. 

Thanks to EPD for being interested in this and getting it out in so timely a fashion! Update: As Stuart notes below it is available on open access now!

“Collect it all”

Glenn Greenwald this morning identifies what he calls the “crux” of the NSA surveillance revelations: the desire to “collect it all.”

What this means is that instead of targeting, surveilling, collecting or storing information on individual suspects for whom there is “probable cause” (evidence), everybody’s information is collected; guilty and innocent alike.

As a matter of fact I agree that this is a crux of the story, although for anybody interested in the study of surveillance this is hardly news. It is useful and important that this is now a matter of public debate, however.

For those interested, Foucault argues that this switch from “discipline and punish” individuals to mass surveillance is characteristic of modern states, and gives rise to their characterization as the “surveillant society”) (eg., John Pickles wrote about his as long ago as 1991, see also the work of David Lyon).

I discuss this in my 2003 piece on geosurveillance (Downloads tab):

Prior to the legal reforms of the 18th and early 19th centuries, Foucault argued the law focused on the nature of the crime committed, the evidence of guilt or innocence, and the system of penalties to be applied. In other words: crime and punishment. The person of the criminal was important only insofar as he or she was the individual to which the crime would be attributed.

Foucault argued that a second system of power emerged in the early eighteenth century that regulated, counted, and surveilled the mass of people as a population. Foucault called this “biopolitics of the population” (Foucault 1978, p. 139) or, more simply, “biopower.”

Given the recent NSA story I think it is easier to see the crucial insight of biopolitics here. One could say that this mass surveillance is necessary because we are all a kind of “pre-criminal” (in the eyes of the state every person has a criminal potential) to some degree or other. Therefore, as I argued (Downloads tab) in 2007:

First, we need to stop seeing the issue as one of security and surveillance versus privacy or rights. Arguing about this or that surveillance technique misses the point that, both historically and today, surveillance is a core component of the modern state; that is, surveillance and geosurveillance are characteristic of certain types of political rule based on a politics of fear (Foucault [1975] 1977; Lyon 1994; Graham and Wood 2003).


Nearly 5 million hold security clearances

The number of people holding security clearances rose to about 4.9m in 2012, according to the latest official figures (pdf) from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI).

Steven Aftergood of the FAS Security blog provides more details:

The total number of cleared personnel as of October 1, 2012 was 4,917,751.  Although the number of contractors who held a clearance declined in 2012, the number of eligible government employees grew at a faster rate, yielding a net increase of 54,199 clearances, or 1.1 percent, from the year before.

It is possible that there were more security-cleared Americans at some points during the Cold War, when there was a larger standing military with more cleared military personnel than there are today.  But until 2010, no comprehensive account of the size of the security clearance system had ever been produced.  So the new 4.9 million figure is the largest official figure ever published.

As he notes, ODNI requested that the legal obligation to report these numbers be canceled, which was initially granted, but following a public outcry, the obligation was restored (ODNI claimed it took a lot of time and effort to prepare).

It’s very useful for us to know these numbers, and indeed further information could well be disclosed without threat to national security, such as the number of contractors working at each IC agency, and in what capacity.

Obama memo on killing US citizens

Charlie Savage and Scott Shane have an important story on the Obama administration’s justifications for killing a US citizen, citing yesterday’s leaked memo obtained by NBC News correspondent Michael Isikoff.

The memo fills in important details of the government’s justifications for these killings, while still leaving plenty of terms only very loosely undefined. Perhaps most noticeably, it claims that killings can be performed in the face of an “imminent attack” but that there need not be any evidence of an attack.

According to Savage and Shane, the memo is also not the specific one used in the killing of Anwar Al-Awlaki, and lawyer Jesselyn Radack has noted that it wouldn’t justify that killing. (Awlaki was a US citizen.)

COIN and the cultural turn

Derek Gregory has a new post about counterinsurgency (COIN) and the cultural turn here. He makes some very good points about COIN and the academic response, as well as providing some useful references:

When I wrote “Rush to the intimate” (DOWNLOADS tab) the new field manual FM 3-24 had just been released, and I was interested in how this – together with changes in pre-deployment training, technology and the rest – described a ‘cultural turn’ of sorts that seemed to be addressed as much to the American public as it was to the American military.

There is indeed something odd about a mode of military operations that advertises itself as ‘the graduate level of war’ (one of Petraeus’s favourite conceits about counterinsurgency) and yet describes a ‘cultural turn’ that is decades behind the cultural turns within the contemporary humanities and the social sciences.

This is an interesting point and one which I feel needs addressing. When military/intel enrolls geography into its doctrine and methodology, there is often a mismatch. As I said in a long post reflecting on the latest GEOINT conference a little while ago, this is either because academia has (wrongly or rightly) given up on something that others find valuable, or because there is a misunderstanding of the potential of our more recent work. Gregory continues:

That said, the discussion of counterinsurgency surely can’t be limited to a single text, its predecessors and its intellectual credentials. If there has been a ‘cultural turn’, then its codification now extends far beyond FM 3-24 (which is in any case being revised); if the domestic audience was an important consideration in 2006, the public has certainly lost interest since then (and, if the US election is any guide, in anything other than an air strike on Iran); and whatever the attractions of large-scale counterinsurgency operations in the recent past, Obama’s clear preference is for a mix of drone strikes, short-term and small-scale Special Forces operations, and cyberwar.

At the moment I don’t feel we in academia have a good enough take on this, or that we’re convincing to policy-makers on why foreign policy shouldn’t be a mix of drone strikes (see eg., “the moral case for drones” here and here by the American philosopher Bradley Strawser) aside from personal opinion informed on ethical grounds.

Or see Matthew Aid, a generally good commentator on intel, and his practically fan-boy adoration of Petraeus, here.

On special ops there are large majorities of Americans in favor of this:

“Do you approve or disapprove of the United States taking military action in countries where it believes terrorists are hiding?”
    Approve Disapprove Approve of
some (vol.)
    % % % %  
  11/6-10/11 65 22 7 6  
“Is it ever okay for the U.S. to authorize the killing of an American citizen in a foreign country if that person is known to be a terrorist, or is that never okay?”
    Okay Never okay Unsure    
    % % %    
  11/6-10/11 53 35 12  

On cyberwar, this is a huge issue for the intelligence community, and one of the central planks of the ODNI & CIA efforts. Not least, because of “insider threat” but also it is framed around threats from China and Russia, especially the former  and industrial secrets.

So I’m just saying that those three things are extremely well entrenched and we need better approaches.

Here are the references he provides:

Ben Anderson, ‘Population and affective perception: biopolitics and antiicpatory action in US counterinsurgency doctrine’, Antipode 43 (2) (2011) 205-36

Josef Teboho Ansorge, ‘Spirits of war: a field manual’, International political sociology 4 (2010) 362-79

Alan Cromartie, ‘Field Manual 3-24 and the heritage of counterinsurgency theory’, Millennium 41 (2012) 91-111

Marcus Kienscherf, ‘A programme of global pacification: US counterinsurgency doctrine and the biopolitics of human (in)security’, Security dialogue 42 (6) (2012) 517-35

Patricia Owens, ‘From Bismarck to Petraeus:the question of the social and the social question in counterinsurgency’, European journal of international relations [online early: March 2012]

Is transparency enough?

Two recent events have got me thinking about transparency. Particularly whether demands for transparency of process, coupled with oversight, are sufficient to ensure good practice.

The proximate cause of these thoughts was Sarah Elwood’s excellent talk to the geography department “Activism, Civic Engagement and the Knowledge Politics of the Geoweb.” Sarah discussed NGOs and their use of geospatial and GIS technologies, and noted that they claimed these offered a benefit to the user (eg., to increase participation) due to their added transparency compared to previous NGO efforts. Sarah was careful to note that these were the NGO claims, and that they needed further assessment. Given the subject matter of her talk, the clear implication was that transparency alone (ie., access to knowledge about their activities) is no more sufficient than previous claims for transparency of the map were ever sufficient. (The map as a transparent window on to the real world.)

The original comments that started me on this however were a couple of posts on Derek Gregory’s blog (here and here) on covert killing through drone strikes. Here are the pertinent sections, first in the context of a recent report on the civilian impact of drones:

military protocols are indeed more public, even transparent, as the authors note, but the space between principle and practice is still wide enough to inflict an unacceptably heavy burden on the civilian population.

Derek had previously made a more developed version of his point:

Madiha’s root objection is to the way in which what she calls the Obama administration’s ‘theatrical performance of faux secrecy’ over its drone war in the FATA (and elsewhere) – a repugnantly teasing dance in which the veil of secrecy is let slip once, twice, three times – functions to draw its audience’s entranced eye towards the American body politic and away from the Pakistani bodies on the ground.  The story is always in Washington and never in Waziristan.  It’s a hideously effective sideshow, in which Obama and an army of barkers and hucksters – unnamed spokesmen ‘speaking on condition of anonymity’ because they are ‘not authorised to speak on the record’,  and front-of-house spielers like Harold Koh and John Brennan – induce not only a faux secrecy but its obverse, a faux intimacy in which public debate is focused on transparency and accountability as the only ‘games’ worth playing.

It is certainly true that the administration’s “now you see it, now you don’t” position on CIA drone strikes (as opposed to those performed by the military in Afghanistan) are hypocritical. On the one hand they issue the standard Glomar response (“neither confirm nor deny”) about drone use in countries with which the US is not at war (Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia). On the other they send out self-congratulatory announcements about killing suspected al-Qaeda members in Yemen, even when they hold American citizenship (such as Anwar al-Awlaki). (Glenn Greenwald has written the most informatively on this, eg here.)

I would also agree with Derek that “false transparency” is deceptive (as is the quest for total or full transparency). However, I would argue that the conditions of knowledge, or if you like the politics of knowledge, are currently in such an asymmetrical state that efforts to rebalance these asymmetries are meritorious. Not just the two recent reports on drones (which I haven’t read yet but plan to do so), but also efforts like WikiLeaks, which I wrote about recently in Geopolitics. The Obama administration’s war on whistleblowers has been truly unprecendented, and brave employees of the NSA, like Thomas Drake, and of the CIA, such as John Kiriakou (who revealed its practice of waterboarding and admitted it was torture) have been charged under the Espionage Act. Not to mentioned Bradley Manning, accused whistleblower, who allegedly provided State department cables to WikiLeaks. (The Drake case was dismissed but the Kiriakou case continues. Proceedings against Bradley Manning are also continuing today.)

While transparency is not enough, and false transparency is misleading, I think it’s important to continue to work for increased government oversight, and I know that it is effective. Things like FOIA and working on declassified documents in archives do yield plenty of information. The FAS Secrecy blog is also highly informational (not least in part because of their use of FOIA to obtain eg., the NGA Congressional budget justifications). In a paper I wrote this summer with two colleagues, Susan Roberts and Ate Poorthuis, we used information we obtained from  corporate filings with the SEC. The paper would not have been as empirically rich without it.

This issue has connections to the vexed problem of visuality, but my focus has more often been on knowledge, and, as here, access to knowledge and denial of access (secrecy). I have a blog post coming up on “the secret” so more on that soon.