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Surveillance: the sensitive research issues are now rising to the fore


BRUSSELS – ‘Privacy by design’ is becoming a mantra for privacy-enhancing technologies regarding surveillance systems. Yet their effectiveness in fighting crime and terrorism is often undermined by their legal and practical limitations. The cost of built-in privacy-by-design features could also act as a further deterrent to wider use, technology producers argue.

The new Security Research project known as SURVEILLE — “SURVeillance: Ethical Issues, Legal Limitations, and Efficiency” – aims to assess privacy-enhancing technologies from various angles. The goal is to identify the potential constrains on their efficient use for the prevention, investigation and prosecution of serious crime.

Launched in February 2012 for three years and coordinated by the Florence-based European University Institute, the EUR 4.4 million project will review public perceptions of surveillance technology and liaise with law enforcement officials to get their feedback on the efficiency of specific surveillance technologies. In parallel to its advisory role for surveillance technology developers across the Security programme (see related story in our July issue), SURVEILLE foresees three annual forums for decision-makers, as well as training courses for law enforcement professionals such as judges, prosecutors and police officers.

SURVEILLE’s first forum for decision makers took place here on 24 September, and brought together officials from the European Commission, European Parliament, law enforcement agencies, local authorities, academics and others. SECURITY EUROPE attended as an observer.

The project will build on the results of a preceding one known as DETECTER, which laid down systematic interactions with technology developers. SURVEILLE aims to:

  • provide a comprehensive survey of surveillance technology deployed in Europe;
  • assess the costs and benefits of surveillance technology (‘benefits’ referring to improved security, and ‘costs’ referring to: economic implications, negative public perceptions, negative effects on behaviour and infringements of fundamental rights);
  • identify and assess legal and ethical issues raised by the use of surveillance technology in the prevention, investigation and prosecution of terrorism and other crime;
  • communicate research results and interact continuously with European decision-makers, law enforcement professionals, local authorities, and technology developers, whose feedback will be folded into the project’s ongoing research.

The 24 September forum apprised its stakeholder audience of the research consortium’s early work regarding analysis of surveillance technology deployed in Europe. For example, the European Forum for Urban Security, a team member, has set up a working group of 10 European local and regional authorities from the Czech Republic, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, Netherlands and Poland to provide in-put about technology users and policymakers within their respective countries. Once completed, this survey will feed into a matrix of surveillance technologies, combining several criteria for classification, including:

  • development cost and cost of building in ‘privacy by design’ features
  • usability by taking into account budgetary restraints of end-users
  • intrusiveness regarding fundamental rights

On the cost-efficiency side, Marietje Schaake, a Dutch member of the European Parliament (group: ALDE) called for more research on mass surveillance tools as opposed to tools used for more narrow targeted purposes. In her view, too many EU and US-made technologies end up being abused by governments in third countries.

The forum debate also addressed the issue of realigning the use of surveillance technologies by law enforcement and intelligence services with the prevention and investigation of serious crimes. One speaker said criminal intelligence procedures are “nowadays almost as important as search and seizure, but [they aren’t] reflected yet in criminal codes”.

In his closing keynote speech, Gilles de Kerchove, the EU’s Counter-Terrorism Coordinator, said the EU’s expansion of the definition of terrorism is having a profound effect on law enforcement and intelligence services. “Both should be able to gather as much data as possible – on the condition that data protection concerns, including privacy by design, are duly taken into account”, he told the audience.

For details about this multi-pronged project, see: http://www.surveille.eu

 THE UPSHOT: SURVEILLE is not the first EU-funded SR project to asses the efficiency of surveillance technologies and public perceptions thereof. The consortium insists, however, that it will avoid duplication of work by digging up new insights into the acceptability of security technologies. A first step will be its attempt to inform technology developers about the ethical and human rights implications of surveillance technologies. This will centre around SURVEILLE’s advisory service for RTD consortia as part of its project work. (see: http://surveilleadvisoryservice.eu)
Aside from capitalising on the results of previous Security Research results, SURVEILLE intends to liaise with ongoing projects to exchange information and preliminary research results. Two such efforts are underway with the project, RESPECT (“Rules, Expectations & Security through Privacy-Enhanced Convenient 0 Technologies”) and IRISS (Increasing Resilience In Surveillance Societies). We will keep readers informed of SURVEILLE’s progress.

About Ramona Kundt

Ramona Kundt was deputy editor at SECURITY EUROPE from 2008-2012.

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