IRISS – Press Release: “European responses to the Snowden revelations” (Discussion Paper)

IRISS project discusses European responses to the Snowden revelations

A European research consortium has prepared a discussion paper on European responses to the revelations that have been emerging from the documents leaked by Edward Snowden, the contractor to the US National Security Agency (NSA).

The discussion paper reviews the institutional responses to the Snowden revelations, the judicial and legal consequences, the societal, economic, media responses as well as the positive impacts of the revelations.

It draws various conclusions related to the failure of oversight, the privacy-security trade-off paradigm, the breakdown of open democracy, resilience in a surveillance society and protecting privacy in a surveillance society.

The discussion paper is available for download on the IRISS consortium’s website. IRISS is the acronym for Increasing Resilience in a Surveillance Society, which comprises 16 partners from nine EU countries. The project, which began in February 2012, analyses 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 aims to explore options for increasing social, economic and institutional resilience and strengthening democratic processes and public discourse about appropriate reactions towards threats against open democratic societies. The EU provided the three-year IRISS project with a grant of €2.6 million.

The discussion paper identifies several positive impacts of the Snowden revelations. They have helped immeasurably to raise society’s awareness of the pervasiveness of surveillance. The revelations have placed surveillance high on the political agenda. The issue of accountability is now being discussed. Until the revelations began, it appeared that there was minimal or no accountability of the NSA and the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), the UK counterpart to the NSA, to their elected officials. Some of the companies subject to surveillance intrusions have increased their security to make it more difficult for governments to surveil their networks. The NSA revelations seem to have had a salutary effect on the public’s paying more attention to their privacy. A Harris poll released 13 November 2013 showed that four out of five people have changed the privacy settings of their social media accounts, and most have made changes in the previous six months.

The discussion paper refers to the bane of the privacy-security trade-off paradigm. When politicians such as President Obama say that they welcome a discussion of the trade-offs between security and civil liberties, the public should be on guard. In striking a balance between collective security and individual privacy, the latter almost always loses out. However, the authors note that many experts and academics have discredited the trade-off paradigm. It is possible to have both privacy and security, without reducing one or the other. A better paradigm is to create what could be called a “balanced risk awareness. This requires the socially responsible management of risks, i.e., to identify risks to privacy and security, either separately or together, and, preferably in consultation with stakeholders, to identify ways of overcoming those risks with no or minimal negative impacts on privacy and/or security.  The discussion examines these issues and more and can be found at

The IRISS consortium is led by the Institute for the Sociology of Law and Criminology (IRKS, Austria). The other partners include Trilateral Research & Consulting (UK), the University of Stirling (UK), the University of Edinburgh (UK), the Eotvos Karoly Policy Institute (Hungary), the Institute of Technology Assessment (Austria), the University of Sheffield (UK), the University of Hamburg (Germany), Vrije University of Brussel (Belgium), Open University (UK), Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (Spain), Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft zur Förderung der angewandten Forschung e.V (Germany), the Peace Research Institute Oslo (Norway), the Universita Cattolica del Sacro Cuore (Italy), Comenius University Bratislava (Slovakia) and the Universität der Bundeswehr München (Germany).

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