Commerce in security technology creates its own demand

28 January 2016

When it comes to supply and demand for civil security technology, commercial parties play such a large role in defining danger that they effectively create the demand for security. The market for homeland security technology in Europe is therefore growing rapidly concludes Marijn Hoijtink in her PhD project into the ‘security industry’ in Europe. She also warns for the militarisation of everyday life because many influential companies in the sector have a military background. Hoijtink defended her doctoral thesis on 27 January at the University of Amsterdam. Her research was funded by a Vidi grant from the Talent Scheme.

Photo: Hollandse Hoogte

Combat fare dodgers and copper thefts

Civil security technology falls between the world of the traditional security camera and military equipment. It concerns products that detect explosives, protect infrastructures, cyber security, drones, database surveillance et cetera. The market growth of this sector in Europe is partly related to the political debate. 'In this debate there is a growing emphasis on the importance of security, especially in relation to the so-called war on terrorism,' says Hoijtink. ‘The supply, by commercial security companies, and the demand for security are inextricably linked with each other.'

At the same time, the dominant topics in European policy discussions are economic growth and employment in the market for civil security technologies. Consequently the European Commission is claiming more responsibilities in this domain.

Hoijtink: ‘‘Security’ is largely a responsibility of the Member States. But within the economic domain and with respect to the internal market the European Commission has a far greater say. The importance of critical questions about security – security for who and against what price? – is also decreasing. In fact such questions are no longer being posed. Those involved are not looking at which products are needed based on threat analyses, but at employment opportunities. I find this development worrying.’

For example, the most logical clients of those companies that Hoijtink investigated – airports, public transport companies et cetera – are not interested in technology that must prevent a terrorist attack. ‘They state: the chance is too small. Public transport companies want to combat fare dodgers and copper thefts. Airports want passenger traffic to be processed faster and therefore need detection equipment that can rapidly distinguish a bottle of mineral water from an explosive. Bombs are not their responsibility. Intelligence services deal with that.’

Democratic legitimacy is under pressure

Marijn Hoijtink collected data by means of interviews, observations and document research. The researcher came to the conclusion that European efforts in this area mainly benefit a small group of security companies and experts. Investments in security within the European framework programmes FP7 and Horizon2020 during the period 2007-2013 were about 1.4 billion euros, but are insignificant compared to the budgets of the industrial complex. The commercial parties are mainly interested in the network function: a conflict-of-interest has arisen between the security lobby and departments within the European Commission. The democratic legitimacy is under pressure as a result of this. Hoijtink is concerned that if security becomes dominated by the private sector then this sector benefits from a feeling of insecurity.

‘Many influential companies in the civil security sector have a military background,’ according to Hoijtink. ‘My research warns for a militarisation of everyday life. And it should not be forgotten that civil security technologies do not fall under traditional defence equipment and so up until now there has been little legislation concerning their export. Examples are known of Assad's regime in Syria using European communication technologies that were developed under FP7 by the very successful Italian company Finmeccanica.’

More information

Marijn Hoijtink (1987) started her PhD research into ‘Securing the European ‘Homeland’: Profit, Risk, Authority’ in 2011, as part of the Vidi project ‘European Security Culture’ of Marieke de Goede.

Source: NWO