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Ethical Issues

INDECT approach to ethical issues

The key objective of INDECT research project is to contribute, through innovation and technology, to the security of all in the European Union. This will be done by proposing several algorithms for independent analysis of various lawful and publically pre-existing sources of information, which are already available to public protection agencies throughout the Union.

All of the research activities within INDECT project are carried out so as to ensure the appropriate balance between the protection of the rights of the individual and the protection of society. INDECT research project has an Ethics Board, which was established to ensure strict compliance of research outcomes with already established rules concerning privacy, data protection, to ensure genuine informed consent of all those participating in the project, and to ensure that information is only used for its intended research purpose. It is also responsible for managing and monitoring all ethical aspects of the project. These aspects include the promotion of gender equality.

The Ethics Board has a broad membership, designed to exert strict control over the project. It includes representatives from data protection experts, Non-Governmental Organisations, academic world, industry and the Police Service of Northern Ireland, which is generally recognised as adhering to the highest standards of human rights protection in all aspects of its work. The Board does not view its role as ensuring compliance as a minimalist task, solely designed to ensure legal compliance. Rather, it sees its function as broader, including overseeing scientific and societal issues related to the research activities conducted within the project.

The algorithms and methodologies underlying the project rely primarily on previously available, usually public, information sources. These include monitoring cameras, public Web pages, etc. The research covered by the INDECT grant, will not consider processing of highly sensitive material, such as telephone intercept, VoIP, etc.

The main objective of INDECT research is to make the monitoring and search process (and procedures) more automatic. This will ultimately allow for more informed decision-making. The value that will be added by deployment of INDECT research outcomes is that existing systems would operate with less human intervention, which will lower the level of subjective assessment and the number of human mistakes. This means less staff will be required for supervision of surveillance activities (e.g. monitoring of CCTV camera networks). This will resulting in less opportunities for illegitimate use of such information, or for human error to result in violations of the rights of the individual. There will also be economic benefits, in terms of the reduced staffing requirements. Police officers could be freed up to carry out frontline policing tasks.

The algorithms that are under research are intended to be used solely in cases where this is justified. Existing legal requirements will apply where the police or other agencies seek to use tools based on INDECT research outcomes in any investigation. These tools will not, and could not, involve any reduction of existing international and national legal protections. Integrated safeguards, such as blurring, etc., allow sophisticated controls to be placed on images (e.g. car registration plates) within recorded images.

Tools based on INDECT research will enhance the ability of the police to protect the public. An example can be an algorithm for detections of dangerous situations, such as: abandoned luggage or withdrawing a dangerous object (a knife or a gun). Such tools will  allow the police to target resources where they are needed. It would not involve mass surveillance, but rather targeted efforts towards detecting the real threats.

It is important to note that a person highlighted by tools based on INDECT detection algorithms would merely be brought to the attention of the relevant authorities, so that normal lawful measures can be taken. The fact of highlighting by itself would involve no legal consequences for the person, and no permanent record would be kept, unless there was a specific legal reason to do so.

Tools based on outcomes from INDECT research are going to be designed to protect the public and its use in any given situation will have to comply with national and international rules regarding privacy. In terms of its design and implementation, the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights applies. As a result of the Lisbon treaty, the EU became a party to the European Convention on Human Rights. These safeguards are additional to those already enjoyed throughout Europe.

National Standards regarding privacy (e.g. the Data Protection Act 1998, the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 in the United Kingdom) will also apply in every EU country.

The sentence: “if you have done nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear” is only true if every aspect of the criminal justice system works perfectly, on every occasion. Tools based on INDECT project research outcomes will provide EU Member States with the technology to ensure that decisions around public safety are based on the maximum amount of relevant information available.

Signed: INDECT Research Project Ethics Board

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