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Balancing Security and Democracy: The Politics of Biometric Identification in the European Union


  • Angela Liberatore


What are the relations between security policies and democratic debate, oversight and rights? And what is the role of expertise in shaping such policies and informing the democratic process? The inquiry that follows tries to answer such questions in the context of the European Union and taking the case of biometric identification, an area where security considerations and the possible impacts on fundamental rights and rule of law are at stake, and where expertise is crucial. Some hypotheses are explored through the case study: that 'securitisation' and 'democratisation' are in tension but some hybrid strategies can emerge, that the plurality of 'authoritative actors' influences policy frames and outcomes, and that knowledge is a key asset in defining these authoritative actors. A counter-intuitive conclusion is presented, namely that biometrics-which seems prima facie an excellent candidate for technocratic decision making, sheltered from democratic debate and accountability-is characterised by intense debate by a plurality of actors. Such pluralism is limited to those actors who have the resources-including knowledge-that allow for inclusion in policy making at EU level, but is nevertheless significant in shaping policy. Tragic events were pivotal in pushing for action on grounds of security, but the chosen instruments were in store and specific actors were capable of proposing them as a solution to security problems; in particular, the strong role of executives is a key factor in the vigorous pursuit of biometric identification. However this is not the whole story, and limited pluralism-including plurality of expertise-explains specific features of the development of biometrics in the EU, namely the central role of the metaphor of 'balancing' security and democracy, and the 'competitive cooperation' between new and more consolidated policy areas. The EU is facing another difficult challenge in the attempt of establishing itself as a new security actor and as a supranational democratic polity: important choices are involved to assure that citizens' security is pursued on the basis of rule of law, respect of fundamental rights and democratic accountability.

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  • Angela Liberatore, 2005. "Balancing Security and Democracy: The Politics of Biometric Identification in the European Union," EUI-RSCAS Working Papers 30, European University Institute (EUI), Robert Schuman Centre of Advanced Studies (RSCAS).
  • Handle: RePEc:erp:euirsc:p0166

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Jordi Molas-Gallart, 2002. "Coping with Dual-Use: A Challenge for European Research Policy," Journal of Common Market Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 40(1), pages 155-165, March.
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    democracy; pluralism; security/internal;

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