European Journal for Security Research

, Volume 3, Issue 2, pp 139–161 | Cite as

When Big Data Meet Securitization. Algorithmic Regulation with Passenger Name Records

  • Lena UlbrichtEmail author
Original Article


This contribution deals with big data as a resource for state regulation. The academic interest in the specificities of contemporary technology-based regulation has generated the concept of “algorithmic regulation” (Yeung, Regulat Govern 347(6):1–19, 2017), which yet needs to be refined empirically. This article sets out to analyze the use of passenger name records (PNR) for security governance as a form of algorithmic regulation. It scrutinizes the political debate about the establishment of the use of PNR for security governance in Germany. Along the three phases of the regulatory process (standard setting, monitoring and enforcement), the study sheds light on how Yeung’s taxonomy helps to critically analyze the choices that lead to a specific type of algorithmic regulation. The analysis also unveils the major controversies of the debate (for example about individual rights) and addresses aspects that were left out of the debate (such as the problem of unwanted discrimination through machine learning). The analysis shows how these issues shaped the specific model of PNR-based governance. The German case also raises awareness for the symbolic function of big data in regulation—a dimension that should be taken into account by the concept of algorithmic regulation. The final discussion points out that research about algorithmic regulation is challenged by systemic opacity, which poses conceptual and political problems. The articles ends with a reflection upon the power of the (seemingly unchallenged) promise of big data that lends itself as a resource for securitization strategies.


Algorithmic regulation Preemptive security Passenger name records Data analysis Big data Mobility 



My thanks go to Eva Korte and Björn Mohr for their valuable research assistance and to two anonymous reviewers for their excellent comments.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin für Sozialforschung (WZB)/WZB Berlin Social Science Center, Politikfeld Internet/Internet PolicyBerlinGermany

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