Understanding Citizen Concerns Surrounding Security Technologies

A key objective of the TRANSCEND project is to create and deliver a Toolbox that will enable people who develop and deploy technologies in the security domain to do two things: (1) To organize collaborations with citizens and other societal stakeholders, so that they can express their needs and concerns, and these can therefore be can be taken into account during development and deployment, and (2) To assess diverse ethical, human rights, and societal aspects that are at play with the security technology that is being developed or deployed, so that the people involved can anticipate these aspects and modify the technology accordingly.

An example of what we aim to facilitate would be the following. A municipality has plans to hang cameras in the city centre. They see it as their duty to promote citizens’ safety. They plan to collaborate with a company that develops advanced face recognition software for such cameras. There is a group of citizens who live in the city centre and who are worried about their privacy, and there is a Civil Society Organization (CSO) that is concerned with equality and non-discrimination in the context of surveillance.

Now, here are some examples of what this municipality could do:

  • Organize a workshop with citizens, to learn about their concerns. They could also ask a group of experts to assess privacy and other human right issues, e.g., equality and non-discrimination, and invite these experts to the workshop.
  • Organize a creative workshop where citizens and technologists collaborate in finding solutions that combine concerns for security and concerns for privacy, e.g., by applying a principle like ‘data minimization’, which could involve storing videos for a very limited time only.


We appreciate that both ambitions can be challenging. Why would we involve citizens? Do they understand enough of the technology to contribute to the conversation? There is already a democratic process, and via this process, the municipality can make and implement plans. And who will organize the analyses and the workshops? Will it add to the project’s costs and lead time?

From earlier projects, and from the literature, it is clear that such involvement and assessments can help to improve the project, and can lead to better outcomes and impacts. Listening to normal people and paying attention to their concerns can pay off (better than ignoring them, and finding out later that they have valid concerns). Anticipating risks can help to prevent undesirable outcomes (better than not looking at such risks and ‘fixing’ the technology further down the road).

In the TRANSCEND project, we are planning to add to that body of experience and evidence. We are collaborating with various stakeholders in four security domains:

  • cybersecurity
  • disaster resilience
  • fighting crime and terrorism
  • border safety


Four rather difficult domains, one might say. Cybersecurity can be complex and daunting from a technology perspective—both for policy makers and for regular people. Disaster resilience very much depends on regular people and their abilities and willingness to participate and contribute. Fighting crime and terrorism brings to the fore all sorts of dilemmas; e.g., cameras in public places can promote safety, but there’s also privacy issues. And border safety can be very sensitive and controversial, for example when dealing with immigration or refugees.

In each of these domains, we will be organizing workshops with citizens, policy makers and technologists, and we will be discussing diverse ethical, human rights, and societal aspects. Our aim is to facilitate collaboration between these diverse groups, and enable them to deal with these diverse aspects constructively.

If this sounds interesting and worthwhile to you, please feel free to contact us at contact@transcend-project.eu; there are lots of ways to collaborate and learn from each other!


Author: Marc Steen, TNO