The Surveillance Triangle: Authorities, Data Subjects and Means (Event Report)

The UACES Network |

A one-day international academic conference, financially supported by UACES, CERIM, SWOL, and The Centre for European Policy Studies, was hosted by Maastricht University Campus Brussels on 25 September 2017. The event was followed by a policy event organised under the auspices of the Maastricht European Centre on Privacy and Cybersecurity.


  1. Our guests

The conference brought together scholars of international standing (including both senior and junior academics) with a background stemming from different institutions (including practitioners and policy makers) and countries. The conference had been designed to bring together specialists of European studies from different policy fields, with the purpose to reflect upon the theme of surveillance. The purpose was to also initiate an interdisciplinary discussion on a topic that is relevant for more scientific fields but still the debate has been fragmented. In particular, the conference addressed how surveillance affects and is perceived from three main stakeholders involved in the process of surveillance: surveillance authorities, data subjects and companies. The conference also addressed the issues related to the means of surveillance and whether these means indeed achieve the objective of preventing serious crimes such as terrorist attacks.

In addition, given the interdisciplinary approach adopted, the convenors have not just invited lawyers but also a number of scholars from the field of political science as well as scholars from the field of philosophy. Each panel conveyed the different academic approaches and methodologies. The working language was English.


  • Xavier Tracol, Senior Legal Officer at Eurojust
  • Christiane Hoehn, Principal Advisor to the EU Counter-Terrorism Coordinator
  • Elif Erdemoglu, Lecturer at The Hague University of Applied Sciences / Researcher at Cybersecurity Center of Expertise, The Hague University of Applied Sciences
  • Elspeth Guild, Jean Monnet Professor ad personam at Queen Mary, University of London as well as at the Radboud University Nijmegen, Netherlands
  • Gloria Gonzalez Fuster, Reasearch Professor at LSTS at Vrije Universiteit Brussels
  • Lorna Woods, Chair of Internet Law, School of Law at the University of Essex
  • Ike Kamphof, Assistant Professor at the Department of Philosophy at Maastricht University
  • Rocco Bellanova, Post-doctoral researcher at University of Amsterdam (UVA)
  • Annika Richterich, Assistant Professor in Digital Culture Literature and Art, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at Maastricht University
  • Anna Dimitrova, Associate Professor in International affairs, Department of International Affairs at ESSCA School of Management, Paris (presentation together with Maja Brkan, Maastricht University)
  • Federico Fabbrini, Full Professor of Law at the School of Law & Government of Dublin City University

Chairs and Discussants:

  • Francesca Galli (EUI and Maastricht University)
  • Maja Brkan (Maastricht University)

The event was broadly opened to the public and well attended (79 registrations including speakers). The audience was composed of academics, members of the European institutions, international organisations as well as students and researchers from various universities.

Speakers as well as members of the audience have expressed their enthusiasm after the event and were prepared to contribute to a potential publication. Potential publication is currently under discussion and the organisers are considering best possible academic platform for publication.


  1. The workshop

Opening speech

The opening keynote speech was supposed to be delivered by Mr. Philippe Reaudière, Data Protection Officer of the European Commission who unfortunately had to cancel his participation due to family reasons. In consequence, the conference was introduced by Maja Brkan, University of Maastricht, and Francesca Galli, European University Institute, two of the conference conveners, who first introduced the theme of surveillance and its relevance both in the academic discussions and current policy debate and then provided an overview of the conference structure. During the introduction, it was pointed out that the conference does not aim to address only the classic privacy-security dilemma regarding data subjects, but seeks to take a broader perspective on surveillance issues, encompassing also challenges that authorities face and legal questions relating to means of surveillance. The conveners pointed out that enhanced surveillance usually goes hand in hand with increased terrorist attacks. They also raised a thought-provoking question whether it is possible to create legal regime where security is optimally ensured and, on the other hand, fundamental rights are respected in a proportionate manner.

Panel I

The first panel focused on the perspective of the authorities who exercise surveillance who currently face several challenges, ranging from tackling the consequences of the recent terrorist attacks, the issue of an alleged lack of data sharing for security purposes (prevention, detection and investigation of serious crimes, including terrorism), reconciling the migrant crisis and the challenges it brings along with border protection concerns. On a broader scale, discussions surrounding the newly adopted Privacy Shield and the General Data Protection Regulation were held and participants reflected on challenges regarding these new legal frameworks. Moreover, the enforcement of surveillance-related decisions or judgments leads to increasing constitutionalization of this field.

Panel II

The second panel drew upon the perspective of Individuals subject to surveillance, which often encompasses the general public and is not targeted to particular individuals who are suspects of being involved in serious crime activities, including the preparation of a terrorist attack. Within this perspective, it was discussed how surveillance should be better regulated in order to achieve its goal most efficiently, whether the expansion of surveillance means is always beneficial to security and what are data subjects’ rights with regard to surveillance.

Panel III

The third panel addressed the perspective of the means of Surveillance and the interplay between, on the one hand, legal limitations and possibilities in this regard and, on the other hand, the constant technical development of innovative means of surveillance. Encryption, Privacy by Design and by Default, anonymization, dealing with big and raw data have in fact become a part of constant legal and political debate in Europe and the world.

Each speaker had been asked to address one or more of the questions provided by the conveners within the detailed panel description to build up his/her contribution. Q&A will follow each panel and the audience was encouraged and most welcome to participate actively.


The closing remarks were developed by Giovanni Buttarelli, the European Data Protection Supervisor, who highlighted the importance of discussions at our event for the privacy practice and doctrine. Mr. Buttarelli built his speech around triangular structure of the conference to affirm that the questions relating to surveillance are pressing and in need of being resolved. A video of his speech is available upon request.

After the closing remarks, the conveners wrapped up the conference and warmheartedly thanked all of the sponsors.

3. Output

In addition to the success that the workshop has had as reported by the participants, we are pleased to report that we are considering the publication of the proceeding as a journal Special Issues in the course of 2018.

Report by Dr. Vigjilenza Abazi, Dr Maja Brkan and Dr. Francesca Galli

This event was supported by a UACES Small Event Grant. To apply for a grant for your European Studies event, visit the funding page.

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