FOLLOW: Following the money from transaction to trial

Increasingly, private companies find themselves in the frontline of fighting terrorism and other security threats. Companies do not just cooperate with security authorities, but actively come to play a part in security practices. Companies identify, select, search, interpret suspicious transactions. They monitor, regulate, restrict and expel client groups. These security practices can have important implications for citizens, yet they remain largely invisible. FOLLOW analyses the trajectory of the suspicious financial transaction across private and public spheres. It follows the ‘chain of translation’ whereby a transaction is rendered, for example, from simple digital bank registration, to suspicious transaction, to court evidence.


Objectives: Though the policy programmes of countering terrorism financing have been analysed quite extensively, very little is known about the ways in which these take shape in practice. At each link in the security chain, a financial transaction does not just change in institutional context, but it changes in meaning. FOLLOW is interested in the daily practices and complex dilemmas of compliance professionals within banks and other private companies. We study the ways in which companies cooperate with compliance authorities and law enforcement, and the challenges that arise here. We use participant observation coupled with in-depth semi-structured interviews to gain insight into the practices and dilemmas of professionals at each link in the chain.


Empirical focus: FOLLOW focuses on the financial sector, but we are interested in other, non-financial, examples as well. We analyse how knowledge about suspicious transactions is formed by banks, national Financial Intelligence Units (FIUs) and courts. At each link in the chain, we study the challenges of privacy and the (unintended) side-effects. FOLLOW asks: what gets lost and added in the process of translating financial transactions? How does financial warfare lead to financial data profiles; influential typologies of vulnerable sectors; and case law on terrorism facilitation?


Concepts: FOLLOW uses the notion of a Chain of Security in order to conceptualise the ways in which security judgements are made across public/private domains and on the basis of commercial transactions. In Pandora’s Hope, Bruno Latour offers the term ‘chain of translation’ to conceptualise the practices whereby objects are identified, collected, registered, transferred and interpreted in the context of scientific research and the production of scientific facts.


We visualise the path of the suspicious transaction as a chain of translation, whereby commercial transactions are collected, stored, transferred and analysed in order to arrive at security facts (including for example frozen assets, closed accounts, and court convictions). We seek to understand the creative and sequenced mode of security judgements across public and private spheres. Rather than rigidly linear, we understand the chain of security to be a dynamic process of continuous circulation, referral and contestation: chains may be recursive, bungled, even circular.

FOLLOW is a 5-year research project at the Amsterdam Institute for Social Science research of the University of Amsterdam.


FOLLOW is supported by Consolidator Grant of the European Research Council (ERC).