- Data wars beyond surveillance: opening the black box of SWIFT
- Journal of Cultural Economy
- Volume | Issue number
- 5 | 1
- Pages (from-to)
- Document type
- Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences (FMG)
- Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research (AISSR)
This article examines the Terrorism Financing Tracking Programme (TFTP), or ‘Swift affair,’ as exemplary of what have been called ‘Data Wars’ in this special issue. In the TFTP, access to data about global financial circulations was offered as a means to govern uncertain security futures. The article endeavours to open the ‘black box’ of the Swift programme, by showing how the Swift data were handled, accessed and analysed. We use the social science analogy of the black box as developed by Donald MacKenzie, but also because the datasets transferred from Swift to the US Treasury were in encrypted form, which literally came to be called a black box. In this paper, opening the black box has a dual meaning: both to reveal and reassemble the processes, procedures and analytical software tools of the TFTP, and to explicate a number of ethical, political and societal questions brought about by the programme. To open up the black box of this data war, then, is to push critique beyond the ‘righting of the wrongs’ (for example, to better protect data or to strengthen privacy), and to ask instead what such practices make of us and our world.
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