Fragile Transparency: Satellite Imagery and the Making of International Security Issues

Nina Witjes, Philipp Olbrich

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    A broad range of non-state actors make use of commercial satellite imagery to monitor global security issues. Questioning the favourable narrative of achieving ‘global transparency’ through Earth observation, the article unravels the underlying relations between the US government, commercial imagery providers, and other non-state actors. Linking insights from Science and Technology Studies and International Relations, two related arguments are put forward: first, the commercialization of satellite technology and imagery does not dismiss the influence of the state but is conducive of the co-production of shifting actor constellations and related to that, different ideas about transparency and power. Secondly, this leads to a less benign understanding of transparency which emphasizes its contingent emergence, limited scope, and context dependence. This ‘fragile transparency’ exposes the shifting power relations inherent to commercial satellite imagery and its potential as a political practice to render certain things as visible and threats to international security.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)524–534
    Number of pages11
    JournalScience and Public Policy
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - Aug-2017


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