[LINK] EU plan for Orwellian computer monitoring

Jan Whitaker jwhit at melbpc.org.au
Mon Sep 28 10:38:15 AEST 2009


EU funding 'Orwellian' artificial intelligence 
plan to monitor public for "abnormal behaviour"

The European Union is spending millions of pounds 
developing "Orwellian" technologies designed to 
scour the internet and CCTV images for "abnormal behaviour".

By Ian Johnston
Published: 9:08PM BST 19 Sep 2009

A five-year research programme, called Project 
Indect, aims to develop computer programmes which 
act as "agents" to monitor and process 
information from web sites, discussion forums, 
file servers, peer-to-peer networks and even individual computers.

Its main objectives include the "automatic 
detection of threats and abnormal behaviour or violence".

Project Indect, which received nearly £10 million 
in funding from the European Union, involves the 
Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and 
computer scientists at York University, in 
addition to colleagues in nine other European countries.

Shami Chakrabarti, the director of human rights 
group Liberty, described the introduction of such 
mass surveillance techniques as a "sinister step" 
for any country, adding that it was "positively chilling" on a European scale.

The Indect research, which began this year, comes 
as the EU is pressing ahead with an expansion of 
its role in fighting crime, terrorism and 
managing migration, increasing its budget in 
these areas by 13.5% to nearly £900 million.

The European Commission is calling for a "common 
culture" of law enforcement to be developed 
across the EU and for a third of police officers 
– more than 50,000 in the UK alone – to be given 
training in European affairs within the next five years.

According to the Open Europe think tank, the 
increased emphasis on co-operation and sharing 
intelligence means that European police forces 
are likely to gain access to sensitive 
information held by UK police, including the 
British DNA database. It also expects the number 
of UK citizens extradited under the controversial 
European Arrest Warrant to triple.

Stephen Booth, an Open Europe analyst who has 
helped compile a dossier on the European justice 
agenda, said these developments and projects such 
as Indect sounded "Orwellian" and raised serious 
questions about individual liberty.

"This is all pretty scary stuff in my book. These 
projects would involve a huge invasion of privacy 
and citizens need to ask themselves whether the 
EU should be spending their taxes on them," he said.

"The EU lacks sufficient checks and balances and 
there is no evidence that anyone has ever asked 
'is this actually in the best interests of our citizens?'"

Miss Chakrabarti said: "Profiling whole 
populations instead of monitoring individual 
suspects is a sinister step in any society.

"It's dangerous enough at national level, but on 
a Europe-wide scale the idea becomes positively chilling."

According to the official website for Project 
Indect, which began this year, its main 
objectives include "to develop a platform for the 
registration and exchange of operational data, 
acquisition of multimedia content, intelligent 
processing of all information and automatic 
detection of threats and recognition of abnormal behaviour or violence".

It talks of the "construction of agents assigned 
to continuous and automatic monitoring of public 
resources such as: web sites, discussion forums, 
usenet groups, file servers, p2p [peer-to-peer] 
networks as well as individual computer systems, 
building an internet-based intelligence gathering 
system, both active and passive".

York University's computer science department 
website details how its task is to develop 
"computational linguistic techniques for 
information gathering and learning from the web".

"Our focus is on novel techniques for word sense 
induction, entity resolution, relationship 
mining, social network analysis [and] sentiment analysis," it says.

A separate EU-funded research project, called 
Adabts – the Automatic Detection of Abnormal 
Behaviour and Threats in crowded Spaces – has 
received nearly £3 million. Its is based in 
Sweden but partners include the UK Home Office and BAE Systems.

It is seeking to develop models of "suspicious 
behaviour" so these can be automatically detected 
using CCTV and other surveillance methods. The 
system would analyse the pitch of people's 
voices, the way their bodies move and track individuals within crowds.

Project coordinator Dr Jorgen Ahlberg, of the 
Swedish Defence Research Agency, said this would 
simply help CCTV operators notice when trouble was starting.

"People usually don't start to fight from one 
second to another," he said. "They start by 
arguing and pushing each other. It's not that 'oh 
you are pushing each other, you should be 
arrested', it's to alert an operator that something is going on.

"If it's a shopping mall, you could send a 
security guard into the vicinity and things [a fight] maybe wouldn't happen."

Open Europe believes intelligence gathered by 
Indect and other such systems could be used by a 
little-known body, the EU Joint Situation Centre 
(SitCen), which it claims is "effectively the 
beginning of an EU secret service". Critics have 
said it could develop into "Europe's CIA".

The dossier says: "The EU's Joint Situation 
Centre (SitCen) was originally established in 
order to monitor and assess worldwide events and 
situations on a 24-hour basis with a focus on 
potential crisis regions, terrorism and WMD-proliferation.

"However, since 2005, SitCen has been used to 
share counter-terrorism information.

"An increased role for SitCen should be of 
concern since the body is shrouded in so much secrecy.

"The expansion of what is effectively the 
beginning of an EU 'secret service' raises 
fundamental questions of political oversight in the member states."

Superintendent Gerry Murray, of the PSNI, said 
the force's main role would be to test whether 
the system, which he said could be operated on a 
countrywide or European level, was a worthwhile tool for the police.

"A lot of it is very academic and very 
science-driven [at the moment]. Our budgets are 
shrinking, our human resources are shrinking and 
we are looking for IT technology that will help 
us five years down the line in reducing crime and 
combating criminal gangs," he said.

"Within this Project Indect there is an ethical 
board which will be looked at: is it permissible 
within the legislation of the country who may use 
it, who oversees it and is it human rights compliant."

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
jwhit at janwhitaker.com
blog: http://janwhitaker.com/jansblog/
business: http://www.janwhitaker.com

Our truest response to the irrationality of the 
world is to paint or sing or write, for only in such response do we find truth.
~Madeline L'Engle, writer

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