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Citizens of Europe are increasingly becoming concerned about the impact smart surveillance technologies are having on their personal freedom Publié le: 13/07/2012

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Smart surveillance technologies have been promoted as an important technological means to address security issues, but they also harbour significant risks to our privacy and other fundamental rights.

In the wake of the 11 September 2001 attacks, "smart" surveillance technologies are being developed supposedly to combat crime and terrorism, but in fact are being used for a variety of purposes, many of which intrude upon the privacy of law-abiding citizens.

Already today, surveillance technology monitors traffic on our roads and passengers, on the Underground; government services use surveillance technology to check who is really entitled to social services; employers monitor employee keystrokes, e-mails and phone calls; and Internet service providers inspect their customers' data traffic to target them with behavioural or personalised advertising.

The European Commission’s FP7 Security Research programme, worth €1.4 billion for 2007-13 has four broad security missions:

  • security of citizens;
  • security of infrastructures and utilities;
  • intelligent surveillance and border security;
  • restoring security and safety in case of crisis.

The ultimate beneficiary of all these missions is society at large: protecting citizens from harm to the best of Europe’s ability while enabling its democratic principles and economy to flourish.  However, in the area of security, this relationship is not an easy one to define. Capabilities that protect the citizen can also oppress their fundamental rights, if they are not bound by the strictest respect for privacy and democratic values. The concept of “privacy by design” whereby security products and services are engineered from the start to protect personal data is one expression of this idea.

An integral part of the projects supported by the European Commission’s Security Research programme is focused on the ethical, legal and economic aspects of research and development, the Commission is leading the way to ensure, for instance, that private data protection goes hand-in-hand with technologies such as video cameras and other forms of detection and surveillance.

Three recently launched projects by the European Commission, working in the area of data protection, privacy and surveillance are RESPECT, SURVEILLE & IRISS, which for the first time are going to collaborate and coordinate their research efforts in real time in order to create synergies between multiple projects.   These were selected following a coordinated Call between the Security Programme (SUREVEILLE, RESPECT) and the Social Sciences and Humanities Programme (IRISS) and are an excellent illustration of how researchers in different domains can cooperate to tackle complex research challenges pertaining to the relations between security and democracy. 

The research cluster DEMOSEC (DEMOcracy and SECurity) was established between the 3 projects.

SURVEILLE and IRISS (Increasing Resilience in Surveillance Societies) are both multidisciplinary projects combining law, ethics, sociology and technology analysis, which   will focus on the effects that surveillance practices introduced to combat crime and terrorism can have on citizens in open and democratic societies. They will review –from different perspectives- surveillance systems used in fighting crime and terrorism; SURVEILLE will examine the driving forces that have led to the spread of these practices and IRISS will identify  the effects that surveillance can have on public discourse, perceived security and citizens’ fears, as well as citizens’ interpretations with regard to the effects they can have on different policies in the fight against crime and terrorism.

Convenience and cost-effectiveness are the two key considerations for both citizens and security forces when deciding which technologies to embrace or avoid.  Both SURVEILLE and RESPECT will enable policy makers to understand the socio-cultural as well as the operational and economic impact of surveillance systems.  In other words, both projects will provide the tools to ensure that surveillance systems are implemented in a way which respects individual privacy while still maximising convenience, profitability, public safety and security. 

These are just a few examples of the Programme’s rich diversity of technologyprojects – all designed to strengthen the security of the citizen, while laying the groundwork for innovation and a more coherent civil security market in Europe.