Security technologies: handmaidens to authoritarianism?

Stream: Employment services, technology
Date: Tuesday, 10 September 2019
Time: 3.45 pm – 5.05 pm


In her recent TED talk Carole Cadwalladr argued that social media companies are enabling the demise of democracy [1]. She carefully argues that technology use is not morally neutral and questions whether social media companies are, “handmaidens to authoritarianism”. In this paper, building on research that examines how power relationships impact on technological security controls [2,3], we question whether such controls used in the delivery of social policy can, under certain economic, social and political conditions, facilitate wider societal insecurity. Using a reflective thematic analysis of the UN’s 2018 study of poverty in the UK [4], we examine technological security’s relationship to digitally-delivered social policies that have been critiqued as authoritarian and punitive. As data, we use the UN study reports [5], published consultation material [6] and related policy documents [7]. We draw links with Australian welfare reform [8] and digital initiatives such as ‘robodebt’ [9] and demonstrate how technological security must be understood within the socio-economic and political matrix in which it is deployed to reveal the true nature of its security powers. References: (1) (2)Coles-Kemp, L., Ashenden, D., & O'Hara, K. (2018). Why Should I? Cybersecurity, the Security of the State and the Insecurity of the Citizen. Politics and Governance, 6(2), 41. (3)Coles-Kemp, L., Zugenmaier, A., & Lewis, M. (2014). Watching You Watching Me: The Art of Playing the Panopticon. Digital Enlightenment Yearbook 2014: Social Networks and Social Machines, Surveillance and Empowerment, 147. (4) (5) (6), , , (7) (8) (9)


Debi Ashenden (Presenter), Deakin University
Debi is Professor of Cyber Security and Human Behaviour at Deakin University and a Director of Industry Research for Deakin’s Centre for Cyber Security Research and Innovation (CSRI). She is Programme Director for Protective Security & Risk at CREST (the Centre for Research & Evidence for Security Threats - Debi’s research interests are in the social and behavioural aspects of cyber security – particularly in finding ways of ‘patching with people’ as well as technology.

Lizzie Coles-Kemp (Presenter), Royal Holloway, University of London, UK
Lizzie is a qualitative researcher who uses creative engagement methods to explore everyday practices of information production, protection, circulation, curation and consumption within and between communities. She took up a full-time academic post in 2008 and prior to joining Royal Holloway University of London she worked for 18 years as an information security practitioner. Lizzie’s focus is the intersection between perceptions and narratives of individual and community security and technological security. Her research specialises in public and community service design and consumption. Lizzie is currently an EPSRC research fellow with a research programme in everyday security and digital service design.