Research on security and surveillance uncovered the scale of trade in arms and control technologies, and exposed the global eavesdropping Echelon System – changing international regulation and policies.

Stun gun (Photo: Steve Wright)

Impacts

  • Dr Steve Wright's research uncovered an emerging trade in security technologies used for social and political control. He set up the Omega Foundation in 1989, with colleagues, to develop a database from his original PhD research data.
  • The Omega report An appraisal of technologies of political control, authored by Dr Wright, exposed the global eavesdropping Echelon System run by the US National Security Agency. The report was featured in every major newspaper in the world, triggering debates in the European Parliament on electronic spying and public accountability, and leading to the formation of the parliament’s Echelon committee. It continues to inform the European Commission’s policy on security.
  • Recommendations from the follow-up Omega report Crowd Control Technologies changed European Commission policy on exports of torture and execution technology.
  • Dr Wright produced a policy report for UK police which led to the ban on electroshock devices under the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997.
  • He assisted in formulating new EU-wide policy on the use of security technologies which is adopted by all EU member states, and new rules on societal and ethical impact assessments for future security technologies which inform all EU security funding bids.

About the research

For over three decades Dr Steve Wright has researched the spreading of technologies of political control and human rights violation. His PhD thesis at Lancaster University, funded by an ESRC (then SSRC) grant, was on 'New Police Technologies and Sub-State Conflict Control'. The thesis documented innovations and trade in new technologies for social and political control, including advanced surveillance, sub-lethal weapons systems and torture technologies.

Dr Wright built on the research to set up the Omega Research Foundation with colleagues, to further develop the database of companies he had created for his thesis. The aim was to gather sufficient data to quickly identify any technology found at the scene of a violation and connect it to a specific company.

Key analysis from the thesis was used to formulate the internationally influential 1998 Omega report An Appraisal of Technologies of Political Control, produced for the European Parliament's Science and Technology Options Assessment (STOA), which began the European and US debate on the National Security Agency's Echelon System surveillance.

Dr Wright has since left the Omega Research Foundation, but his findings have played a significant role in bringing about changes in how the trade is regulated and controlled by governments globally.