Stabilising security market abstractions

Stabilising security market abstractions

My study is illicit market ecosystems. The counterparts are global insecurity markets. These are growing markets in policing and public order solutions. They extend from gear – riot shields, body cameras, conducted energy devices like the Taser – to eyes – surveillance methods, smart policing algorithms. Each device produces a receiving context in which it makes sense to use it, in which it is rationalised. Tasers provide a way of using force with restricted lethality, but also lower the threshold at which force might be used and open its use to a wider range of actors beyond qualified law enforcement officers. Hence overall there may be more incidents of injury as a result. They also change our understanding of what force is in relation to policing. They do not do this on their own, as each technology is introduced in the context of regulatory and customary controls around its use.

Increasingly products are offered as part of complete solution packages. Optimised police patrol routes, evidence production, and connected technologies are offered as a single product. Principles of risk reduction and redistribution are embedded in them. That may be reducing the space for customary regulation and make police much more a matter of bureaucratic governance through these informationalised protocols. Systems create abstractions which are then reimposed on the local context. They build in ideas of optimisation, efficiency and effectiveness which are produced in specific contexts but have the experience of abstraction.

Markets cover two entities: knowing objects and stabilising objects. A knowing object could be an algorithm to decide an optimal police patrol route in a city. A stabilising object could be a shared evidential collection and chain-of-evidence system.

The knowing object is novel as it does not require a human in the loop, unlike Bentham’s panopticon. The interaction between individual and object has evolved. Under the panopticon, the threat to the inmate is of not knowing when you are being surveilled. The direction of surveillance and behaviour change is from centre to periphery. The knowing object changes the equation. It surveils both parties – the warden and the inmate, the police officer and the suspect. It changes how both act towards it. Both have to respond to and make use of its knowing, information processing qualities. There is a challenge there for established Foucault-influenced theory of modernity, self and surveillance.

The stabilising object is directly connected to questions of what is and what matters. It creates coherent, shareable concepts of what evidence is, what a particular type of crime is, where it can be found and who has liability. So far in those that I have looked at they tend to be more public and less commercialised. They are often shared between law enforcement, policy makers, researchers and private entities – so they are less products of the market and more like mediating factors. A case is the Budapest Convention on Cybercrime and the related Octopus platform for sharing evidence and intelligence. These objects are active in shaping what we understand cybercrime as being. Cybercrime is itself a diffuse concept and is built on shaky ground. The ‘cyber’ part seems both unspecified and potentially all encompassing. What criminal doesn’t use some aspect of ‘the cyber’ at some point? The objects govern that down to a manageable, tangible construct.

Oriola T, Neverson N and Adeyanju CT (2012) ‘They should have just taken a gun and shot my son’: Taser deployment and the downtrodden in Canada. Social Identities 18(1). Taylor & Francis: 65–83.
White MD and Ready J (2009) Examining fatal and nonfatal incidents involving the TASER. Criminology & Public Policy 8(4): 865–891. DOI: 10.1111/j.1745-9133.2009.00600.x.
White MD and Saunders J (2010) Race, Bias, and Police Use of the TASER. Race, ethnicity, and policing: New and essential readings: 382–404.
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