Shock Monitor: State of the Art

J. Andrew Carter, Jr.

The Market for Force

In the current postmodern political climate, military and security services have evolved and specialized to an impressive degree. Arguably, state governments have relinquished their monopoly of force through the increased provision of contracts to specialized private contractors to provide support or carry out complex services on behalf of or in addition to current military or security engagements. Public sector governments and private citizens are motivated to utilize these specialized services due to the supposed benefits of outsourcing military and security services. In particular, the private sector promises innovation, efficiency, expertise and exclusivity. The benefit of incorporating private actors into public and private military and security network has given rise to an array of affluent, connected and powerful multinational corporations, which have then generated influence on a broad spectrum of security policy worldwide.

While in some jurisdictions, the utility of private military and security services is legally ambiguous, its cost effectiveness and contractual nature provides its clientele- both public and private actors- with invaluable protection, decreased accountability and highly specialized services. The fine line is not easily distinguished between public and private actors in the security industry. Private citizens and former public security personnel have the ability to engage in these services formerly reserved for state and national police and military actors through employment with private firms. The personnel within the sector are able to engage in activities within specialized, privately registered corporations or consultancies, which market collaborative or supplemental security services to both private citizens and public governments in a manner that they are outside the scope of conventional security networks. These private actors engage in services such as combat support, armed guarding, protection or detention of persons, assets or objects, as well as the maintenance and strategic functionality of arms, surveillance or security systems.

Shock Monitor

In 2017, Shock Monitor launched an interactive tool on its webpage intending to track and pinpoint firms operating in various jurisdictions within the international system to increase transparency of the sector. The tool embodies the principle mission of the campaign, which is to observe and document military and security activity by third party actors and to promote research and reporting on impacts to humanitarian and international law around the world, without limitation to any specific geographical context.

The data published within the online database and mapping tool is collected, developed and verified through the Shock Monitor technical and research team. Shock Monitor was created under the direction of the International Institute for Nonviolent Action (NOVACT), headquartered in Barcelona, Spain, which provides a physical space and common field office for Shock Monitor. Despite the institutional ties of the organization, Shock Monitor operates independently and benefits from the broad range of human rights activism established through the NOVACT platform.

Shock Monitor is not limited to an online research tool, and also encompasses local civil society organizations, human rights activists, academic researchers, and other journalistic institutions, which individually play a great role in effectively providing transparency on the private military and security industry. More specifically, the collaborative research tool is organized around the network of Shock Monitor Academics, which assist the core technical team in providing leads on PMSC activity, clientele and potential impacts worth noting and reporting.


The thematic scope of the Shock Monitor interactive database encompasses active private military and security companies, clientele, and reported incidents of human rights incidents during the 21st century. Although the process of military and security privatization is ongoing and continuous, we consider the private sector military and security industry to have radically evolved and acquired its contemporary quantitative and qualitative dimensions in the events following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States. As a NOVACT-powered tool, Shock Monitor follows this methodology in light of previous research published by the organization.

Due to the complex operational context of private military and security actors, the geographical scope of Shock Monitor covers major multinational or internationalized companies, clientele and actions that have an international and interjurisdictional impact.

Our material scope includes reputable reports on private military and security actors, their clientele, and any alleged actions or testimonies on the impact of PMSCs or their personnel on third party individuals, or local populations.


For the purposes of the Shock Monitor observatory, it is integral to fully define key terms that depict the approach to monitoring private military and security services:

  • Private Military and Security Company – refers to any corporate entity that provides military or security services on a compensatory basis as stipulated through a contractual relationship with a public government or private entity or individual
  • Military and Security Service – refers to the services provided within the realm of combat, armed guarding, protection of persons or objects (including, but not limited to convoys, infrastructure or assets), maintenance and operation of weapons systems, activities in detention centers, as well as consulting services to training forces and security personnel
  • Contractor(s) – refers to a physical person or entity employed by a private military or security provider engaged in a contractual relationship with a third-party government, group or citizen to provide a military or security service
  • Sub-contractor(s) – refers to a physical person or group acting as an extension of a private military or security company to supplement a contracted task or operation on behalf of that company, irrespective to the original contracting actor
  • Human Rights Incident – refers to any act or occurrence involving a private military or security company or contractor that directly infringes on rights guaranteed under international and humanitarian law

Although the aforementioned definitions are integral to the functionality of the Shock Monitor tools and methodology, they are subject to change in terms of scope and extent due to developments to the political and operational context of firms and increased utility of third-party military and security actors in internationalized conflicts and activities.

Research Process

The documentation and research process is based on collecting factual data of PMSCs and their impact through different sources of published data such as testimonies from citizens and communities affected by PMSC operations, official investigations by governmental or international bodies, judicial decisions, news agencies, reports from human rights organizations and oversight institutions, amongst others.

Informational sources include, but are not limited to: RefWorld, ECOI, LexiNexis, Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, Project On Government Oversight, international and local news agencies, documents or reports published by national and international human rights or civil society organizations, official informational releases or studies by official government or oversight bodies, testimonies from local partners and field researchers within the Shock Monitor Academic network.

PMSCs & Their Clients

Private military and security companies are registered in the Shock Monitor operations map, which pinpoints the corporate headquarters and satellite field offices of known firms, represented by nodes displayed in its corresponding geographical location. Each node contains basic and integral information regarding a particular PMSC, including its name, origin, description, national or international operations, verified clientele, services offered, operational context, and its webpage. Clientele are directly connected to the node of the corresponding PMSC, which are also individually verified by information published on particular operations and information provided on the contracting entity. In the case a government or public sector entity contracts the PMSC, the country or regional government capital is regarded as the client.

Human rights incidents and breaches of international law are individually verified by the Shock Monitor technical team, given there is:

1. Minimum of three different informational sources on a given impact to bypass bias or limited accounts of a particular activity
2. Ongoing, resolved or pending legal investigation carried out by a governmental or international institution
3. Subsequent judicial process regarding the findings of the investigation regarding a particular incident

Human Rights Impacts

Human rights violations are considered the negligence of state or non-state actors to ensure basic, substantive human rights or the direct abuse or denial of rights, including those of civil, political, cultural, economic, and social nature.

In reporting on alleged impacts to human rights committed by private military and security actors, it is fundamental to disclose the categories in which they are considered. The following categories include substantive human rights, as protected under international law and as referenced by the Shock Monitor technical team in the case of reporting:

  1. Right to Life, Liberty and Security and Self-Determiniation
  2. Right to Privacy
  3. Right to Health Services
  4. Right to Fair Labor
  5. Right to Due Process of Law
  6. Right to Free Speech, Assembly, Expression, Thought, Conscience and Religion (Civil and Political Rights)

Details regarding the verified impacts are documented within the Shock Monitor database, available by following the integrated database link on the homepage. Information on impacts are reported in the following sequence:

  • Date and Year or Range of Alleged Impact
  • Summary of Allegation(s) and Description of Incident (provides critical details and uses initials to protect any individual victims or perpetrators in a given impact)
  • Source (description of three individual sources or official judicial ruling regarding the incident including any pertinent links or documentation)
  • Implicated PMSC (includes the name, nationality and other relevant information about the actor regarding the particular incident)
  • Services Rendered by PMSC (describes the contractual relationship between the PMSC during the time of the alleged incident)
  • Weaponry Involved (if applicable)
  • Client (description of the contracting agent of the PMSC at the time of the alleged impact)
  • Violation (identifies the specific human rights violation)
  • Tag (code and reference words)
  • Investigations (provides information on former, ongoing or future investigations of the alleged impact)
  • Judicial Process (provides information related to the possible judicial process or decisions made in a court of law regarding the crime, including previous cases of a similar nature)
  • Reparation (provides information regarding to the possible reparation, kind, amount and source)
  • Internal Status (note which distinguishes the alleged case as pending or verified- once verified, it is published on the operations map)
  • Supplemental Files (space to upload or attach pertinent documentation on the particular case including the original sources in which it was referenced)

Since its founding, Shock Monitor has established itself as a wholesome, collaborative network and participatory platform open to collaboration with individual researchers, academics, industry representatives, civil society organizations and governmental bodies. Shock Monitor is committed to truth, transparency and accountability and expose corruption and injustice in the private military and security sector. Its reporting, documenting and research seeks to provide support for proper governance mechanisms and responsible, strategic decision-making by public officials considering human rights and respect for the laws of citizens.

Become a member of the Shock Monitor research network today.