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Ethical aspects of security research to grow more complex

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How to extract better societal security from current and future technology without undermining public confidence in the technology itself? The growing subtleties of the ethical dimension to security research will be an earmark of scientific study as the EU’s next seven-year Horizon 2020 framework research programme gets under way in 2014.

"We are working on a privacy-by-design standard for security technologies and services. While this sounds abstract, it goes to the heart of citizens’ concerns about technology", Graham Willmott, DG-ENTR’s Head of Unit for Policy and Research in Security, told a 19-20 November conference hosted by the European Commission at the 2013 Milipol technology exhibition on the outskirts of Paris.

The concept of privacy-by-design calls for integrating techniques and safeguards into security equipment and services that enhance or protect the privacy of individuals or their data.

Speaking for industry, Jean-Marc Suchier, former CEO of Sagem Morpho, said the main challenge is how to integrate the concept of privacy into actual manufacturing processes. 

"Privacy is a grey zone that is hard to translate into practical rules when we have to develop a product. Yet we in industry need predictability: the time needed, the legal requirements, the standards and certification that must be followed, and the budget required," observed Suchier.

Ethics researchers at the conference voiced a diversity of opinion about the priorities that should shape future security research in the ethical field. Peter Burgess, Research Professor at the Peace Research institute in Oslo, noted that innovation cannot be stopped but argued there are legal frameworks "that can be used, based on developing a vision that defines the right versus the wrong technologies to develop."

Ben Hayes, Director of Statewatch’s Monitoring and Documenting Center on EU Justice and Home Affairs, was less sanguine. "I appreciate the merits of the [EU’s] Security Research programme, but the technologies are evolving so quickly that I really question whether we have the legal and regulatory frameworks that can keep up with them."

For Hayes, the burden falls first on researchers and industry "to think hard about the ethical consequences of a developing a technology before it is developed."

Hendrik Keersmaeckers, Legal Affairs Manager at security service provider G4S, also warned that the evolution of technology "cannot be halted, which is why it is so important to bring researchers, civil society, policymakers and industry together: you can’t have everyone in separate trenches, not talking to one another."

Looking ahead, Willmott said the Commission’s future privacy-by-design standard will aim to ensure that all privacy aspects are taken into account "along the whole chain, from product design to production".

Noting that the Commission is working with stakeholders to get something in place by the end of 2014, he added that "this is an opportunity for the EU and industry. If we can show we respect the ethical strictures of privacy, it will be a selling point for our industries."

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