Project Overview


IRISS reconstructed the spread of surveillance systems and technologies in public and private sectors from the perspective of their impact on the fabric of a democratic society. The project focused on the observable effects and everyday understanding of surveillance in contemporary Europe, analysed differences within and between individual societies and matched the observable effects against the situation in other parts of the world.

The project pursued a strategy of in-depth analysis of a broad range of carefully selected cases, applying a mix of methods to produce a comprehensive account of the effects that surveillance can have on public discourse, perceived security and citizens’ fears. IRISS analysed citizens’ interpretations with regard to the effects they can have on different policies in the fight against crime and terrorism.

This empirical research informed an analysis designed to explore options for increasing social, economic and institutional resilience. IRISS produced a comprehensive account of resilience options, focussing on strengthening democratic processes and public discourse about appropriate reactions towards threats against open democratic societies.

Stakeholder engagement was key to the success of IRISS and the consortium involved stakeholders in expert workshops, an international advisory board as well as by other direct contacts.


The IRISS project had the following main objectives:

  • To investigate the emergence, development and deployment of surveillance technologies, their impact on basic rights and their social and economic costs.
  • To design a theoretical framework of understanding which captures core dimensions of the relationship between surveillance and democracy and which can be utilised to explore these relations empirically.
  • To understand and reconstruct citizens’ views and understanding of surveillance and their options to exercise their democratic rights in surveillance societies.
  • To identify and analyse the options for enhancing social, economic and institutional resilience in European societies.

The project concluded in January 2015.