INDECT – Privacy Ethics In A Secret Project

Geplaatst: 10 september 2010 in Internet

A new document on ethical issues published by the INDECT European research project on public surveillance has once more attracted the scrutiny of the media. Previous allegations of secrecy were followed by an attempt to strengthen the project’s Ethics Board. The new document however notes that addressing ethical concerns requires time that cannot be spent on research. It therefore recommends to simply stop disclosing any project deliverables that could negatively impact “organisational reputation” and other sensitive topics.

The INDECT Project, funded with almost 11 million euros, aims to research on “Intelligent information system supporting observation, searching and detection for security of citizens in urban environment” but was qualified by The Telegraph last year as the “‘Orwellian’ artificial intelligence plan to monitor public for ‘abnormal behaviour'”.

Following the article, a lot of public pressure was put from media, civil society and the European Parliament. MEPs addressed to the European Commission 10 questions in the past year related to the project and its privacy ethics.

One of the answers of the European Commission was: “In order to further enhance the role of the project’s Ethics Board, the Commission will recommend to the project to add an additional independent expert. This expert will have proven expertise in ethical and data protection issues”, but, so far, the Ethics board has been dominated by Police Officers and no privacy experts.

The project published in August 2010 a first public document that has as objective “to give an overview of activities relevant to ethical issues undertaken within INDECT during the first year of project work.”

One of the conclusions of the document shows in fact little consideration for the public interest: “What is discouraging for persons working in INDECT is that instead of making research a significant amount of the time is consumed for explaining what the project is NOT about.”

Moreover, as emphasized by, the document has also other shortcomings in terms of secrecy, as most of the documents developed within the project could remain away from the public eye: “In addressing the issue of public disclosure, as presently deliverables do not indicate any level of disclosure, it was agreed that: – No issues that could impact negatively upon o Law enforcement capability o National Security o Public Safety o Organisational Reputation should be published in the public domain – Summary documents of such deliverables should not be published.”

In fact, two of the documents that have been made publicly available on the project website, have disappeared from there. But they have re-appeared on other independant websites, as pointed by the investigation.

Also, the initial video-presentation of the INDECT project, available on YouTube and receiving a lot of negative comments, has now become just a private video.

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