IDP no. 26 (February, 2018) I ISSN 1699-8154 Journal promoted by the Law and Political Science Department
Universitat Oberta de Catalunya
Risk management in the digital constellation - a constitutional perspective (part I)*
Ulrich Beck distinguishes these risks
from personal risks, such as those taken by Columbus when
discovering new continents and having the connotation of
adventure and courage. Instead, the new risks are general,
they have the potential to cause mankind to destroy itself.
Also, “external” risks like natural disasters or pandemics,
unforeseeable and unattributable to anyone as they are,
are not the kind of risks that Beck is referring to in his
concept of risk society.
Cyber-risks are of a different kind as well. They can be very
explicit, concrete and visible. Cyber-threats, as experienced,
affect individuals, business, public services and authorities,
critical infrastructures, energy grids, nuclear plants, and
whatever is connected to the internet
or depends on its
operation. These threats are not unintended, general and
implicit but intended and focused. Cyber-risks can have a
global dimension, like the risks Ulrich Beck is concerned
with. Cyber-threats, however, are not from diffuse sources,
as in the case of air pollution or dying forests, but always
arise from a well-determined source, often individuals, but
also from groups, businesses or states. As attribution is
not technically possible; for the potential victims they give
the appearance of natural disasters. However, they are not
“external” to the society, but “internal”. They are “risks
of modernisation” like the risks described by Ulrich Beck.
In contrast to those, however, they arise from intentional
planned attacks on IT systems, starting with smartphones
and individual computers up to critical infrastructures. In
this respect, cyber-risks are distinct from risks qualiﬁed
as unintended side-effects, if they are not the unintended
side-effects of digitisation at large.
Interestingly, in his book on the “World Risk Society”,
Beck places particular emphasis on the global dimension
of the new risks: “they destroy national borders and
mix the domestic with the foreign”.
With regard to the
environment, he observes a de-coupling of the social
Ibid., pp. 54-58.
Ibid., p. 28.
Ibid., p. 300, where he emphasises that an essential characteristic of the risk society is the fact that we cannot make external factors
accountable for the risk situations (“Unmöglichkeit externer Zurechenbarkeit von Gefahrenlagen”).
Stuxnet is said to be a case where the attack was possible even when there was no connection to the internet, see: Kushner (2013).
Beck (1999, note 6, p. 40), mentioning the “cosmopolitical moment” as an indication for a “meta-change” of the society of the 21st
century: ibid., p. 41 (my translation). See also ibid., pp. 287-91.
Ibid., p. 288.
Ibid., p. 288-89.
Ibid., p. 291.
Ibid., p. 322-23. For his understanding of the term “cosmopolitan” see also ibid., p. 314.
Ibid., p. 326.
Ibid., p. 339-40; in English: Ulrich Beck, Critical Theory of World Risk Society: A Cosmopolitan Vision, in: 16 Constellations (2009,
location of the responsible decision-maker from the
place and time where foreign people become the object
of the physical and social injury the decisions cause.
The complexity of the interaction and accumulation of
disorders and destructions, he concludes, are challenging
the survival of the planet itself, while international risk
management is becoming progressively necessary and
Cyber-risks may not be challenging the
survival of the planet, but they do stretch across borders
and continents because of the global reach of the internet
With regard to civil society, Beck detects approaches
supporting a “world-risk-civic right”. In a new social
theory, he states, society must be de-coupled from the
state. What he strives to sketch out is a historico-empirical
social theory of the world-risk-society.
Beck also takes a
cosmopolitan view of sociology, based upon the insight
that reality is no longer national or international, but
borderless and global: decision-makers have to take
account of the people their decisions potentially affect,
wherever they are in the world.
He shares the call made
by David Held for the establishment of institutions for
global coordination, while emphasising that, prior to
institutionalisation, global norms are emerging merely
from the general indignation felt about facts that are
considered to be simply unacceptable: norms, he says, do
not only emerge “positively” from legislative processes
but also “negatively” from an evaluation of crisis and
But he goes one step further. The ethical
principle of hospitality in the sense meant by Immanuel
Kant, who regarded the duty to welcome strangers as a
key feature of his normative cosmopolitanism, for Beck
would not be applicable in what he calls “the global
space or responsibility of global risks”.
of hospitability would not be “appropriate to expressing
the inescapability of moral proximity over geographical
distance”. For Beck, the global risks trigger a kind of