How do we define “citizen”, and why does it matter?

Security research stakeholders and the absence of the “citizen” 

Security research does not take place in a vacuum, but within a complex social and institutional framework. In TRANSCEND, we distinguish between “actors”, who actively participate in the design of a technical system, “users”, who work with or adopt the finished systems, and finally “affected parties”, on whom the operation of a technical system may have some kind of impact. “Affected parties” may sometimes be captured as “end users” because they interact with the technology; however, this is not always the case. For instance, a Law Enforcement Agency may be the “end user” of a facial recognition technology, but the “affected parties” would be the people the technology is used on. 

Although these three groups can overlap, they tend to have very different interests, and there may be considerable differences in their ideas of what a technical system should (or should not) do. In practice, the “actors” have the strongest influence on the characteristics of the technology they create. “Users” also have an indirect influence on the design of technology, at least where they can choose to adopt alternative systems. The interests or concerns of those who are only “affected” by virtue or interaction or impact are too often insufficiently considered in the design of technology. At worst, their existence is overlooked entirely.  

In response to this challenge, TRANSCEND is investigating ways of involving the “citizen” more closely in the design process, where “citizen” encompasses the core of the “affected parties”, i.e. everyday people who are not involved in creating or directly using the technology, yet are still impacted by it. We believe that the involvement of “citizens” in security technology development will make for a more inclusive, ethical, and person-centric security technology landscape. But who exactly do we mean when we talk about citizens, and how will we hear their voices? 

The concept of the “citizen” and “EU citizens” 

The concept of the “citizen” itself is a contested one. Citizenship is long embedded in the notion of a nation-state. According to social contract theory, governmental authority is based on the consent of ‘the people’, to be exercised for their common interests. In practice, this consent is accorded as a political right held by ‘the citizen’ to vote (ICCPR, art. 25, ECHR, art. 3 of Prot. 1). While in recent years, the franchise has been increasingly extended to residents (i.e., legally resident foreign nationals), this fundamental differentiation continues to ensure that non-citizens often fall between the “cracks of a state-based membership system” (Brysk & Shafir, 2004).  In addition to long-term residents, non-citizens include some of the most vulnerable members of our society, such as migrants, including asylum seekers, stateless people and refugees. 

Within EU Research & Development frameworks, we often refer to “EU citizens”, a concept that accords specific additional rights on Union citizens (art. 9 TEUart. 20 TFEU). It is a political and legal concept that is additional to nationality, composed of citizens who do not share the same nationality. In this way, the notion of the “EU citizen” is a more expansive idea than many theories of citizenship grounded in social contract theory. Nevertheless, EU citizenship presumes nationality, conferred automatically on citizens of a Member State. It is therefore a concept still bound to the notion of the nation-state, a framework whereby citizens dominate the narrative leaving non-citizens, especially vulnerable non-citizens, susceptible to neglect.   

TRANSCEND’s inclusive approach to the “citizen” 

If we were to use this conventional understanding of citizenship in the TRANSCEND project, we would run the risk of excluding key vulnerable groups from participation in security technology development. To avoid this, the TRANSCEND project adopts a more inclusive concept of citizenship, whereby “citizen” transcends the notion of the nation-state, and is inclusive of people regardless of their legal status (see Kabeer, 2005). With this more expansive notion of the citizen, the TRANSCEND project seeks the engagement of all potential end-users of security technology, untethered to any legalistic understanding of the term. 

When we say “citizen” within the TRANSCEND project, we simply mean, loosely, “everyday people”, including persons without the right to vote whether that be residents or migrants such as refugees and stateless people. At times, we have also used the term “civilian” to avoid the legal understanding of “citizen”. However, since civilian is often defined in contrast to a member of the armed forces or the civil security services, it neglects to include that these individuals are also citizens.  

How do we hear the voices of citizens? 

To create fair, inclusive and trustworthy security technology, it is vital that citizens’ concerns are incorporated into security technology development. However, directly engaging individual citizens is challenging. More often, the voices of citizens are heard instead via civil society, where civil society means a collection of individuals who are not at that moment operating in the state or governmental sphere. This definition of civil society is inclusive of our definition of citizen, including both vulnerable groups such as refugees, as well as other, less vulnerable but also conventionally excluded groups, such as international students and workers. 

We often use Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) to enable us to understand a sub-section of citizens’ interests. In the TRANSCEND project, we follow Pinter (2001) in understanding the term CSOs as an umbrella concept that includes NGOs, social movements, and grass-roots organisations. These can be organisations advocating on race, gender, sexual orientation or other grounds, faith-based or profession-based organisations, charities, cooperatives, or other community interest groups, such as parent and toddler groups and sports clubs, among others. In TRANSCEND, we are developing methods that bring CSOs to the security research table so that they can act as gateways through which citizen voices can be heard. 

We may also refer to “stakeholders”. This umbrella term includes CSOs, but it is not exclusive to organisations that act as gatekeepers of citizen voices. For our project, stakeholder means – more broadly – any organisation or individual who has an interest in involving citizens in security research technology. This can include the security developers themselves, the users of the technology, and the affected citizens.   

Hearing the voice of citizens in TRANSCEND pilots 

The only way to make security technology fairer, more inclusive and more trustworthy for all of society is to ensure that citizen voices – and here, we mean citizen in its most inclusive sense – are incorporated into its design and development. 

We are working towards this by piloting a “Toolbox of Methods”. The Toolbox can be utilized by security technology developers to help them access citizen opinions – often through CSOs – on security technology design and implementation. The pilots will be run in four domains: Border Management, Disaster-Resilient Societies, Cybersecurity, and Fighting Crime and Terrorism. 

Within each of these pilots, it is crucial that (1) citizen voices are heard and (2) an inclusive concept of citizen is used. This is because citizens are directly impacted by security technology in each of these contexts. It is thus important to canvass their opinions about the technology, understand their concerns, and address their concerns within the technology development and design pipeline. Which group is most impacted by security technology is context-dependent; however, it is crucial that an inclusive definition of citizen is used within each pilot domain. Otherwise, vulnerable groups are likely to be excluded from the conversation. For example, in the domain of border management, refugees and stateless people are likely to be some of the most heavily impacted groups when it comes to border security technology. Such groups may also be disproportionately affected by a disaster, act of terrorism or cybersecurity attack. If we were using a more conventional definition of “citizen”, we might accidentally exclude these groups from having a seat at the security technology table. By using an inclusive definition, however, we ensure that we actively seek and engage these important, and often-underrepresented, voices.    


Without clarity and precision in our language, we risk ambiguity of interpretation, which in turn can lead to the accidental exclusion of groups that we wish to be inclusive of. That is why we hope this blog post will be useful. When you see the term “citizen” used within the context of TRANSCEND, you know that we do not mean this within narrow legal limits. We are intentionally using the term in an expansive way, grounding the definition within an inclusive, participatory research framework, so that we can hear the voices of all groups – including those most vulnerable in our society. 


Written by Richa Kumar and Beki Hooper, with thanks to Krzysztof Garstka, Michael Friedewald and Leanne Cochrane.

If you would like to learn more about this work, please feel free to contact us at  


Further Reading 

Brysk & Shafir, G. (2004) People out of Place: Globalization, Human Rights and the Citizenship Gap. New York: Routledge. 

Kabeer, N. (2005) Inclusive citizenship: meanings and expressions. London: Zed. 

Pinter, F. 2001. “Funding Global Civil Society Organisations.” In Anheier, H., M. Glasius, & M. Kaldor (Eds.) 2001. Global Civil Society. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. 

Rawls, J. (1971) A theory of justice (Rev. ed.): The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. 

Sen, A. (2006) ‘What Do We Want from a Theory of Justice?’ The Journal of Philosophy 103(5)