Wednesday 31 January 2007, by Seone Perez Francisco
Round Table on Ethics and Security
Challenge: The changing Landscape of European Liberty and Security
January 17, 2007
Jean Monnet European Centre of Excellence
Institute of Communications Studies
University of Leeds UK
Commentary on the main discussion point:
Security as an exceptional realm within a democratic polity
The current popular discomfort with decisions regarding security reminds us of an intrinsic paradox in our democratic systems. In order to be deemed democratic, a state or a polity must be guided by the will of the people. However, following Weber, a state can only guarantee the freedom and liberty of its constituents if it retains the monopoly of violence. The global scope of contemporary terrorism, one of the most evident incarnations of private violence, is what explains in part the political claims made by governments inter alia to justify the resort to secrecy and confidentiality among governments across Europe and the world.
The press, the public and the legislature can still exert a considerable control and scrutiny in the design and implementation of public policies in education or welfare provisions, but security remains too sensitive an issue to be publicly aired. As some of the MPs interviewed by Terry Mayer argue, «reasonable secrecy» is required so as not to put in danger the prosecution of criminals, but security can also be used as an excuse to cover unpopular executive decisions. Terrorism (the main driving force in this process of increasing securitisation) is dangerous not only for what it can do to the state, but for what it can force the state to do to itself (Fallows, 2006). Some political activists consider the omnipresent CCTV cameras and the biometric ID cards favoured by governments as dangerous for democracy as the bombs activated by terrorists because they increase the potential for state agreed surveillance of citizens’ daily activities.
Transparency is intimately linked to legitimacy. Juliet Lodge outlined how the exceptionalism invoked by governments to justify the introduction of security measures closest to the citizen could lead to new insecurities. She pointed to the new vulnerabilities that compromise security arising from weak or a lack of baked in security in ICT systems purporting to enhance collective security. The problems of exponential rises in fraud along with the ways in which ICT systems exacerbate social exclusion and division had so far been insufficiently addressed, despite the political rhetoric to the contrary, she argued. She illustrated this with examples for the deployment of biometric identifiers, weaknesses in RFID and MRTDs. The public has revealed itself as willing to bear some inconveniences (long queues at airports, new passports) in exchange for increased security. But that popular support wanes when those security measures entail the risk of over-surveillance and political, racial or religious profiling. In particular when it becomes widely known that private agencies and companies are using the same devices as the state to store the data of individuals, as the report by Annemarie Sprokkereef showed.
Being held at an Institute of Communications Studies, the participants in the roundtable debated the role of the media in this crisis of securitisation. Journalists face two disadvantages: On one side, the same lack of information from the Executive that the ministers of parliament suffer. On the other, the compliance with the special procedures related to the reporting of terrorism. Such procedures adduce security as one of the reasons for limiting the scrutiny of the press. Hence the «symbolic annihilation» of citizens signalled by Dr Katarina Sarikakis.
Dr Robin Brown, added that, traditionally, the British public doesn’t mind hiding information if that is for security reasons. Dr Brown referred to the writings of Carl Schmitt as key to understanding the rationale behind those situations in which the state behaves under the rules of exceptionality.
But secrecy not only occurs when dealing with terrorism or security issues. It can also be a problem in the everyday administration of a state. The paper by Bruno Fransen uses the comparative method to offer a picture of the different degrees of transparency and openness that a country might have. Put in a continuum with «maximum security» and «maximum liberty» as the opposing edges, Fransen revealed that Austria would be very close to the pole of maximum security, whereas Finland would be approaching the pole of maximum liberty. His «transparency framework» offers a good template that could be used to compare the openness of all EU countries.
The round table offered some policy proposals: A shared ethical code for international security cooperation, and more involvement of parliaments in the control of those executive decisions concerning security. The draft Constitution is a step in the right direction but as yet most national parliaments are too weak and do not cooperate sufficiently with the European Parliament. This is, in many ways, not very different from what Fallows  (2006) suggests: To declare the end of the war on terror, and to begin to fight terrorism as one of the many threats that contemporary democracies have to face. In that sense, international cooperation and parliamentary control might be more useful tools to combat terrorism than the rule of endless exceptionality.
See also :
Francisco Seoane Perez
Institute of Communication Studies
 Fallows, James. September, 2006. «Declaring victory.» The Atlantic Monthly. Volume 298, No. 2, pp. 60-75.