Security ethics: theory, trends and developments

A two day conference, organised jointly by the School of Law and the School of Politics and International Studies.

Since 9/11, one of the overriding security concerns and drivers for legislative change has been the threat posed by ‘non-state’ political violence. But, in this context, what is ‘security’, for whom and against what? The justifications for state intrusions have been framed in terms of the need to control those actors who seek to threaten the state, promulgate atrocities and ‘radicalize vulnerable citizens’.

However, many would argue that threats to human security are far wider and much more profound. Indeed, some argue that climate change must be viewed as an issue of human security, and not an environmental problem that can be managed in isolation from larger questions concerning development trajectories, and ethical obligations towards the poor and to future generations. Others might focus on the Ukraine and others still on the challenges of mass migration in the Mediterranean.

The new Government in the United Kingdom has recently announced its plans to introduce the ‘Investigatory Powers Bill’, which will provide the police and security services in the UK with unprecedented powers of surveillance with respect to online data and communications. These new powers have been widely condemned by Civil Liberties organisations.

In contrast, following revelations by Edward Snowden, the US Senate recently passed the ‘USA Freedom Act’, which has ended the blanket surveillance powers previously available to the US security services. The new Counter Terrorism Act, which became Law recently within the UK places public institutions such as schools, universities and prisons under a new statutory duty to prevent extremist radicalisation taking place within their organisations. What these new laws highlight is how the issue of surveillance is a phenomenon that is becoming increasingly salient as a social policy issue and as such one that requires high-level intellectual debate concerning the underlying ethics different approach to achieving ‘security’.

Ethics in security is not confined to any single issue but has a wider reach that touches on a range of fundamental questions, each of which requires an adequate ethical framework to address. For example, is it better to protect the common good of the community or should we prioritise safeguarding the rights of the individual? Is it appropriate to contrast these two issues and if so where and how should the boundaries between them be defined? What compromises to individual rights and community safety is it right to make and how can we ensure an appropriate ‘balance’ is achieved? What are the distinctions we need to make between mechanisms that buttress security and those that undermine it? Are the boundaries between safeguarding individuals and protecting communities becoming increasingly and deliberately blurred, confused and contradictory? What ideological processes are at work in the debates surrounding security and how do these relate to policy and practices?

What is clear is that security practices and the focus of security debates have important ethical implications and drivers. By excluding some issues from consideration and presenting others as potential ‘security’ threats we promote particular forms of policy and license particular actions. Consequently, academic debate in this area can have important implications and impacts.

Therefore, the Security and Justice Research Group at the University of Leeds is hosting a leading edge and timely workshop to discuss, debate and explore ethical issues in security. We are bringing together world leading academic figures in this area in order to present and discuss their research with an invited audience across two days.

The event will take place in one of the UKs leading research intensive institutions and will have a broad scope, encompassing ethical issues at the societal level as well as those of particular technologies and practices. The workshop will explore issues related to the current state of research concerning the surveillance society, radicalisation, the omnipresent threat of terror, and the role played by the state in both countering and promulgating these.

At the same time, we will consider developments in smart CCTV, biometrics and the Internet in terms of the impact these have on security issues and society as a whole. This will be an inter-disciplinary workshop, bringing together leading thinkers from law, philosophy, international relations and the broader social sciences.


  • David Chandler (Professor of International Relations; Director of the Centre for the Study of Democracy, Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Westminster)
  • Tom Sorell (Professor of Politics and Philosophy; ESRC Global Uncertainties Leadership Fellow, Politics and International Studies, University of Warwick)
  • Peter Burgess (Research Professor, Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) Senior Research Fellow, Institute for European Studies, Vrije Universiteit Brussel and Editor of Security Dialogue)
  • Kevin Macnish (Teaching Fellow and Consultant in Applied Ethics, Inter-Disciplinary and Applied Ethics Centre, University of Leeds)
  • Professor Adam Crawford, (Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice; Director of the Leeds Social Sciences Institute; Director of the Security and Justice Research Group; Director of the N8 Policing Research Partnership, University of Leeds)
  • Professor Clifford Stott, (Professor of Social Psychology, Keele University)
  • Dr Nick Robinson, (Associate Professor in Politics, University of Leeds)
  • Dr Steven Hutchinson, (Lecturer in Criminology, Birkbeck University of London)
  • Professor David Wall, (Professor of Criminology, University of Leeds)
  • Dr Conor O’Reilly, (Associate Professor in Transnational Crime and Security, University of Leeds)
  • Dr David Lonsdale, (Director of the Centre for Security Studies, University of Hull)
  • Professor Edward Newman, (Professor of International Security, University of Leeds)


This workshop will take place in the School of Law at the University of Leeds on the 22nd and 23rd March. It will be built around a series of presentations that will all take place in plenary format in order to enable in depth discussion and debate.

Each session will be built around specific themes and involve a discussant. We welcome the participation of post-graduate students and from those outside academia with a professional interest in this area. There will be a conference dinner on the evening of the 22 March.

There is limited availability and all attendees must register in advance, so if you are interested in attending please contact Louise Pears,