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Long-distance border controls to "check travellers data along his/her journey" and remotely detect "abnormal behaviour"

The EU is offering €3 million for research projects that can work out how to gather massive amounts of data from individuals crossing the EU's borders without "increasing the risk of loss of privacy".

This unlikely-sounding task is part of the latest work programme for the European Security Research Programme (pdf), which sets out research priorities for 2016 and 2017.

€302 million of a total six-year budget of €1.7 billion will be available over the next two years for projects dealing with crime, terrorism, natural and man-made disasters, critical infrastructures, cybersecurity and border controls.

"Seamless" border crossing

The work programme notes that: "For the traveller it would be ideal to cross borders without being slowed down," and that in the next 10 years the "seamless crossing of borders and security checks" for "travellers who meet the conditions of entry" will be possible.

All it will require is "the intensive use of technologies", such as "information systems and (networks of) sensors", some of which "are to be deployed in the vicinity of border crossing points," while "others can be mobile and used to check travellers data along his/her journey."

The work programme says

"The assessment of acceptability of such (combinations of) technologies and systems by citizens (who need to remain in control of personal data) and practitioners is needed, that takes account of human behaviour, gender, legal frameworks, societal issues, and possible risk of discrimination."

Projects are expected to provide "information systems that better manage personal information and support the automated checking and analysing of various entry and exit data" and "networks of sensors that better collect information needed for border checks," as well as "a method, and metrics, to assess acceptability by the society".

"Risk-based screening" for "remote detection of abnormal behaviour"

Projects will need to ensure that they develop new information systems and sensors "without increasing the risk of loss of privacy" by working with projects funded under another topic listed in the latest work programme: "Risk-based screening at border crossing".

€8 million is set aside for projects on this topic, which notes the increasing number of people and goods crossing borders and calls for "thorough checks" to be "limited to fewer individual goods and people pre-selected further to a preliminary (and non-disruptive) risk-based screening of the flows."

In the long-term, projects are supposed to provide "innovative, international alert systems" that offer "improved solutions for remote detection of abnormal behaviour" and "improved and people-respectful border automated screening systems."

In the short-term, they should offer "enhanced situational awareness" to border guards, as well as:

"Improved risk-management coordination and cooperation between border control (passport/persons), customs (baggage/goods) and security in transport (pre-boarding security checks on persons and baggage)."

Total surveillance, total security

Such proposals are nothing new for the European Security Research Programme, which is formally entitled 'Secure societies: Protecting freedom and security of Europe and its citizens' and is part of the €77 billion Horizon 2020 research fund.

Under the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7), the predecessor to Horizon 2020, the ESRP funded a host of projects intended to increase the automated surveillance and control of people crossing borders.

These included the Total Airport Security System (TASS) project, which received almost €9 million of its €15 million total cost, spent four years developing a "novel alternative" to standard airport security systems:

"The TASS concept is based on integrating and fusing different types of selected real time sensors & sub-systems for data collection in a variety of modes, including fixed and mobile, all suitable for operation under any environmental conditions. The TASS concept will offer real time synchronization and information sharing between all the authorities involved in Airport Security."

TASS was led by Israel's Verint Systems and involved a number of other companies and organisations, including the UK's Rapiscan, Portugal's GMV, Israel's Elbit and the UK arm of BAE Systems.

Another of the many similar investigations fed by the ESRP was the ADABTS (Automatic Detection of Abnormal Behaviour and Threats in crowded Spaces) project, which in 2009 received €3.2 million to investigate the development of:

"[A] pro-active system focusing on detecting presence of potentially threatening as well as anomalous behaviours… Improved events detection would benefit CCTV operators' effectiveness, leading to shorter reaction time for terror actions and riots for example. Furthermore automated offline abilities, like searching databases, would also facilitate subsequent content-based retrieval in images after an incident. This creates new possibilities for increased security against threats like terror, crime and riots by enhanced warning systems."

The project was led by the Swedish Defence Research Institute, which was joined by, amongst others, the Dutch state research institute TNO, the UK Home Office and BAE Systems.

Discount detection

Another topic in the latest work programme is looking to reduce "the cost of technologies in land border applications":

"[W]ithout investments in technology and information systems, it is simply not feasible to manage borders and border crossing points. Whilst technology offers great potential to meet the dual objective of enhancing border security while facilitating cross-border travel, its costs are often prohibitive, especially in the light of current national budgets."

How is this to be done?

"Cost reduction may result from: merging several advanced technologies into novel border security solutions; trade-off against performance; optimizing the use of technologies where they are most effective at mitigating risks further to specific risk analysis; achieving greater interoperability among systems; enabling the early provision of data in advance to the time of crossing."

No doubt those crossing Europe's borders will feel assured that, although they may be monitored with the "intensive use of technologies", it won't put too much of a strain on the public purse.


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