Transparency from Space? How Non-Governmental Actors Use Satellite Imagery for Security Governance

Philipp Olbrich

    Research output: ThesisThesis fully internal (DIV)

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    The commercialization of high-resolution satellite imagery has put the former intelligence technology within reach for non-governmental actors. This fueled expectations that the emergent practice of non-governmental remote sensing helps to promote global transparency and security from space. Challenging this one-sided narrative, the thesis combines socio-material approaches to security with grounded theory methods to explore the role of technology in security governance. The analysis builds on 50 qualitative interviews as well as supplementary documents and arrives at three central findings. First, it shows how security threats are co-produced by human and technological factors: The potentials and constraints of commercial satellite imagery co-determine which and how security threats are eventually problematized. In the process, the material and visual dimensions of satellite imagery render security problematizations as intuitively legitimate and credible. Second, the thesis draws up a typology of four distinct modes of non-governmental remote sensing. The variation is a result of how non-governmental actors react to and actualize the socio-material potentials and constraints of remote sensing technology. Finally, the thesis challenges prevalent ideas about the expected effects of satellite-based transparency. It argues that non-governmental remote sensing leads to forced transparency, when transparency is idealized as a quantifiable virtue that should be maximized. Effectively, this blurs the lines between transparency and surveillance. Based on this, the thesis reassesses the risks and implications of the maximization of transparency.
    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Awarding Institution
    • University of Groningen
    • Zwitter, Andrej, Supervisor
    • Shim, David, Co-supervisor
    Award date2-Mar-2020
    Place of Publication[Groningen]
    Publication statusPublished - 2020

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