Making Data Flow: the Material Infrastructures of Transatlantic Security

Date: 25 April 2018
Time: 12.30 - 14.00 hrs
Venue: Ravelijn, RA 1315
Speakers: Prof.dr. Marieke de Goede, Professor of Political Science and Dr. Rocco Bellanova, Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences


Digital data are increasingly extracted from the avalanche of commercial transactions, ingested by powerful computing systems, and used to track and target suspicious people and things. Far from a web of seamless surveillance, it is hard work to make data flow – across the Atlantic and across commercial and governmental settings. This paper analyses the complex and seemingly boring details of data infrastructures, that are supposedly underneath the ‘drama’ of algorithmic governance. We draw on and develop Fuller and Goffey’s notions of work-flow to capture, understand and analyse the difficult infrastructural work of making global data flow. We foreground to the work required to make (security) data materialize, and render them mobile, sharable, transportable. We focus on three elements of the data work-flow: data-structuring, socio-legal infrastructural arrangements and specific modes of interfacing. The paper takes the EU-US Agreements on the transfers of PNR and SWIFT data as empirical examples, and analyses their work-flows through a close reading of transatlantic Joint Review Reports.  By shifting attention to the supposedly “boring things” of infrastructure (Star 1999, 377), we provide a reinvigorated purchase on the politics of making data flow. Work-flows distribute competences and agency, and they materially, legally and politically support specific ways of doing security.