Digital Open Source Intelligence and International Security: A Primer

EDAM Research Reports, Cyber Governance and Digital Democracy 2018/8

28 Pages Posted: 25 Feb 2019

See all articles by Akin Unver

Akin Unver

Ozyegin University, Department of International Relations

Date Written: July 15, 2018


Digital surveillance is a growing global concern, following the Snowden revelations, subsequent national security leaks and the most recent controversy regarding Cambridge Analytica and the Trump campaign. This report explores some of the dilemmas and deadlocks regarding digital surveillance, its extent in democracies and autocracies and how it interacts with the ‘surveillance-industrial complex’, SIC. SIC is an often-overlooked aspect in the surveillance-privacy debate as it is not necessarily intentions that render surveillance problematic, but its business model. In all political systems there is a secrecy, transparency and surveillance cost which drives a country’s willingness to hoard secrets (citizen data, international data transfers) or to disclose some key political information to the public for the sake of legitimacy. A key component of the surveillance-privacy debate in digital space is the technology race, which drives states’ unwillingness to disclose policy information due to the increasing costs of acquiring key intelligence in a networked society. Ever-increasing methods and technologies of surveillance and circumvention alike is one of the central reasons on why efforts to regulate and safeguards surveillance mechanisms fail: they simply cannot keep up with the technologically proficient intelligence agencies, nor the ever-resourceful citizen-driven circumvention tools. Good examples in some European countries have focused mainly on making surveillance oversight transparent, while establishing hybrid safeguard mechanisms that are established by proficient technical experts, in addition to bureaucrats or MPs. The failure of surveillance transparency moves largely stem from this technological backwardness of safeguard and oversight mechanisms, as a result of which the public devises its own mechanisms to circumvent, mask or monitor how states manage and process digital intelligence and citizen data. However, especially with the growing threat of terrorism, far-right radicalization and extremist groups emerging in western societies, surveillance is viewed not only politically necessary, but also electorally popular. To that end, public opinion is not unitary and it is itself divided between pro-surveillance and pro-privacy groups. Ultimately, democracies have to come up with the surveillance-privacy balance that conforms to the country’s political culture, but also to the universal human rights. The task of oversight in this context is heavy: it has to continuously chase the executive and intelligence community in detecting abuse and excess, while remaining technologically proficient at the same time.

Keywords: Open Source Intelligence, OSINT, Political Science, International Relations, Technology, Data Science

Suggested Citation

Unver, Hamid Akin, Digital Open Source Intelligence and International Security: A Primer (July 15, 2018). EDAM Research Reports, Cyber Governance and Digital Democracy 2018/8, Available at SSRN:

Hamid Akin Unver (Contact Author)

Ozyegin University, Department of International Relations ( email )

Kusbakisi Cd. No: 2
Altunizade, Uskudar
Istanbul, 34662

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