Security is freedom from, or protection against, potential harm (or other unwanted coercive change) from external forces. Its beneficiaries may be individuals and social groups, institutions, or whole societies. Security mostly refers to protection from hostile forces, but it has a wide range of other senses: for example, as the absence of harm (e.g. freedom from want); as the presence of an essential good (e.g. food security); as resilience against potential damage or harm (e.g. secure foundations); as secrecy (e.g. a secure telephone line); as containment (e.g. a secure room or cell); and as a state of mind (e.g. emotional security). The term may also be used to refer to acts and systems intended to provide security, as in the case of ‘data security’. Research may jeopardize security in the first sense but may also be expected to deliver security in the second.

Security may also arise as an issue in the different sense of ‘national security’, where traditional ethical standards, such as confidentiality, are challenged in relation to terrorism or warfare. Researchers may find themselves facing legal pressures to disclose original data or identify research participants to police or security services (Elliott and Fleetwood 2017).