standard Risk, surveillance and power

This is an interview with Dr Francisco Klauser, a former leading researcher in IHRR’s Risk and Security programme.  He is currently an assistant professor in political geography at the University of Neuchâtel in Switzerland.

Dr Francisco Klauser

Dr Francisco Klauser’s research focuses on the relationships between space, risk/surveillance and power, especially public urban space and places of mobility.  In recent years, he has developed an international portfolio of work on security and surveillance at sport mega-events, including publications on the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany, the 2008 Beijing Games and the 2008 European Football Championships in Switzerland/Austria.  More recently he focused on the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics.

During his time at the Institute, he published in a range of journals, including theme-focused contributions in several fields and languages as well as in some of the most influential  academic journals such in English such as the British Journal of Sociology, European Urban and Regional Studies and Environment and Planning D: Society and Space. He is currently co-editing a book on Risk Research: Practices, Politics, Ethics (together with Prof Stuart Lane, under contract with Wiley-Blackwell), and journal special issues of Urban Studies on “Security, Cities and Sport Mega-Events” with Richard Giulianotti (IHRR, SASS) and of Environment and Planning D: Society and Space on “Revisiting Human Territoriality.”

Why does your research focus on sport mega-events and airports?

I’ve been focusing on sport mega-events and airports because I think both are laboratories for security governance.  That’s where the risks are highest.  There’s a long history of security threats in the aviation sector, 9/11 being the most extreme example.  There are also many other examples of aircraft hijackings such as the attack on Glasgow airport a few years ago.  The same is true with sport mega-events.

There’s a long history of risks in sport mega-events such as the massacre during the 1972 summer Olympics in Munich, Germany.  I’m interested in how these events take place within the more general dynamics of security governance and how sport mega-events will produce new models of dealing with security and surveillance that will be diffused within other social contexts.  This may include things like new CCTV cameras, but also new collaborations between the military, police and private security companies.

In what ways does surveillance go beyond risk and security?

Surveillance influences our lives on a much more fundamental level, not only in terms of security.  Our society is increasingly dependent on technology, from computers to motorways.

Cities are universes of technology.  Critical infrastructures such as water networks, electricity grids, etc. all depend on technology.  Where there is technology, there is also data to collect, and that’s exactly what surveillance is about.  Surveillance is not just about making life safer, it’s also about organising our lives.  It is about making our daily lives possible in the first place.  I think that’s at the very core of the whole surveillance issue.  It’s not just about security versus privacy, it’s also about commodity.

What about CCTV in particular?

For my PhD, I did research on CCTV cameras and how people perceived them.  What I found was that people actually forget about CCTV cameras.  You can’t speak to CCTV cameras, you don’t know what’s behind them, or if anybody’s looking at you through them, and because they are everywhere, people would never constantly think about them in their everyday lives.

But if you have police officers, that’s completely different, because you can engage or interact with them.  Hardly anyone said they didn’t like the cameras; they were simply not worried about them.  But if you ask them what they would want to improve their personal security they would say police officers or better street lights.

CCTV is probably one of the most well-researched forms of surveillance.  One of the fundamental lessons taken from these studies is that CCTV does not fundamentally reduce criminality.  It’s a slightly simplistic conclusion because there are different forms of criminality.  There are some forms of criminality where people are just impulsively reacting to something and they don’t consider their environment, like alcohol-related crime or vandalism, so people ignore cameras anyway and the preventative effect is not there.

In another case, where you have a very rational type of criminality, such as auto-theft, you would think very carefully about which car to steal, where, and how to steal it.  In this case you will likely find ‘diffusion of criminality,’ where you will not steal the car on camera, but steal the one that is not secured by CCTV cameras.  Studies have shown very clearly that the overall problem of crime is not being resolved by CCTV, but displaced elsewhere.

How is risk managed at mega sporting events that are hosted by cities?

Security strategies at these events try to channel the crowds towards specific areas.  That’s at the core of strategies at these events; it’s all about organising the crowd.  It is about mundane things as well such as street crime and weather hazards.

The media almost exclusively focus on terrorism, but for the people in charge of risk management it’s about many other things as well.

How, if at all, can the public play a larger role in how surveillance technologies are regulated?

It is my opinion that there should be a democratic debate about surveillance.  I’m quite amazed that there are 5 million CCTV cameras in England without any kind of serious debate about it.  However, people are quite happy to provide information about themselves.

I think that’s important not to forget either.  There should be a debate about the use of CCTV cameras, but at the same time I don’t know how many millions of people, myself included, can have a profile on Facebook, for example, and very happily provide much more private information than any CCTV camera could ever record.  What does privacy mean in this technological society we live in where people are absolutely happy to just exhibit themselves?

What role do private security companies play?

I don’t think private companies simply implant their security solutions into a particular place.  Every event has money available for security and of course that’s attractive to private companies.

When I was speaking to people in Switzerland in charge of the European Football Championships or the Vancouver Winter Olympics, they told me that every day they get emails from private companies advertising their security systems.  It’s a huge market and sport mega-events attract these kinds of companies because there’s money available.

Companies like Siemens, who have been establishing themselves as the standard provider for stadium security, will have all of the technical expertise that’s needed.  These companies install the technology that shapes the entire structure of the organisation and management of the stadium.

What are the biggest challenges for researchers in risk and security, specifically having to do with surveillance?

I think one of the main challenges is simply to get access to information about security systems.  The privatised security market is a hidden world where there’s so much happening.

I think there’s a very critical methodological issue here — how to actually speak and manage to get in touch with people who develop security systems.  People at Siemens and IBM know so much more about their security systems than we do simply because they have all of the information and they can so easily say to researchers ‘well it’s confidential, no access.’ It’s also very urgent to better understand how people live with security and surveillance and how this impacts marginalised people as well.

For example, how does the fight against terrorism affect Muslim communities?  This is a very big development and there’s not much work being done right now.  Much more research is needed to understand how security and surveillance impacts our lives.


Risk and Security Programme in IHRR:

Dr Francisco Klauser’s Staff Webpage:

Some papers by Dr Francisco Klauser available online on some of the topics mentioned in interview:

FIFA Land 2006 TM: Alliances between security politics and business interests for Germany’s city network

Security Governance and Sport Mega-events: Toward an Interdisciplinary Research Agenda

Interacting forms of expertise in security governance: the example of CCTV surveillance at Geneva International Airport


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