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8.3.3 Theorising on the Impact of Security Technologies

Theory can play a role in evaluation by helping the researcher decide on their methodology and directing them to certain issues and problems (Clarke and Dawson, 1999). It is important to understand the theoretical basis of an intervention so that during an evaluation the theories can be tested. A theoretical framework helps to unpick the relationship between the intervention and its impact.

Within the field of research in security technologies theory has been used as a framework to examine the real and potential impact of interventions. Many of the technologies have the potential to impact on large sections of society and, rather than waiting to evaluate the impact of these interventions once they have been implemented, academics have sought to theorise about their potential effects. General social theories have been used as a framework to examine the potential effects of security technologies 'either with whole societies and the processes involved in their development, or with very general aspects of social reality such as the relationship between agency and structure or macro and micro level of analysis' (Layder, 1998: 14 quoted in Bottoms, 2000). Academics examining the impact of surveillance technologies, such as CCTV and biometrics, have turned to Foucault's general social theory and used the themes of power and the increase of disciplinary mechanism throughout society as a framework to discuss the influence of the technologies (Koskela, 2003; Yar, 2003). Ball and Haggerty (2005: 134) suggest that:

... surveillance based research highlights the power relations inherent in surveillance practices: power relationships that concern an organisation's ability to watch in an unproblematic and unchallenged way.

Many of the global security technologies used to monitor individuals, are comparatively secret and individuals may not be aware of the impact upon their lives, therefore academic research utilises theoretical material to document some of the potential consequences of the technologies. Research into the impact of security technologies is transdisciplinary and theoretical models have been utilised from a number of research fields. For example, Ackleson (2005) explored the social, economic and political impact of deploying security technologies across the United States borders and used Birkland's "focussing event" framework to examine the 'postcrisis policy formulation process' that drove the growth of the technologies. Theorising about the actual and potential impact of security technologies has allowed academics to engage in debate about how security technologies impact on issues such as 'equity, fairness, justice, and respect for a person in a digitally mediated world' (Ball and Haggerty, 2005:131) which moves the debate about security technologies beyond whether they are effective or not.

A number of different methods of examining the real and potential impact of security technologies have been outlined above. Academic debate will continue around the various merits of different research methodologies but it is essential that research methodologies meet the specific objectives of research projects. The types of issues being investigated should define the research design adopted and often different models of evaluation have been integrated to provide a full picture of an intervention's impact (e.g. Gill and Spriggs, 2005). Some of the research issues examined above are revisited in the context of the security technologies discussed below.