EU: Police seeking new technologies as Europol's "Innovation Lab" takes shape


EU law enforcement structures have been making moves to take advantage of new technologies for policing purposes. One aspect of this includes setting up an "Innovation Lab and Innovation Hub" at Europol, which will both monitor emerging technologies and their usefulness for law enforcement, and take part in projects aiming to develop new ways of using those technologies for the police. This includes AI, machine learning, big data and augmented reality.

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See: NOTE from: Europol to: Delegations: The EU Innovation Hub and the Innovation Lab of Europol – state of play (12859/20, 16 November 2020, LIMITE, pdf)

"Depending on the availability of resources, it will be composed of four functions serving both strategic and operational needs and seeking to achieve the four objectives assigned to Europol by the JHA Council.

These four functions are: 1) the Projects, 2) the Observatory, 3) the Network of Innovators and 4) the EU Innovation Hub for Internal Security (a distinct entity from the Lab but hosted at the Lab)."

Projects are concerned with "innovative technologies" for law enforcement use and "are initiated with and by EU Member States". Europol also participates in nationally-funded and EU-funded research projects; the latter are funded via the Horizon 2020 research and innovation budget.

Current Horizon 2020 projects involving Europol are:

  • PROTON, aiming to use computer modelling to understand "the processes of recruitment to organised crime and terrorist networks"
  • INFINITY, which "will couple virtual and augmented reality innovations, artificial intelligence and machine learning with big data and visual analytics... to deliver an integrated solution to revolutionise data-driven investigations."
  • AIDA, developing "a descriptive and predictive data analytics platform and related tools which will prevent, identify, analyse and combat cybercrime and terrorist activities"
  • GRACE, using machine learning to identify, refer and assess images of child sexual exploitation

More may be in the works, as "the Innovation Lab has joined three consortia as a Senior Law Enforcement Agency User to submit project proposals to H2020 calls on AI and Security."

The Observatory and "Network of Innovators" involve monitoring emerging technologies and coordinating with others working on related issues, respectively. Meanwhile the "Innovation Hub" is to be "a distinct entity from the Europol Innovation Lab". Whereas the Innovation Lab focuses solely on law enforcement, the Hub will aim for:

"coordination and collaboration between all EU and national actors in the wider field of internal security, including border management, criminal justice and the security aspects of migration and customs."

Europol is "working together with the European Commission, Frontex, eu-LISA, EMCDDA, Eurojust and other JHA agencies" to develop the Innovation Hub, says the document.

"Core Groups" are used to structure work within the Innovation Lab, whereby willing member states work together on particular issues. The first project concerns "Secure Communication", which has been set up following an assessment of law enforcement requirements to deal with issues arising during the pandemic.

In the longer term, "Europol’s ambition is to be in a position to fund and steer the research and development activities of Core Groups of EU Member States."

The future work of the Innovation Lab and Innovation Hub appears to depend upon the availability of money and staff. Europol thinks that 11 staff would be ideal, and the "active engagement of the Member States" is also sought.

See: NOTE from: Europol to: Delegations: The EU Innovation Hub and the Innovation Lab of Europol – state of play (12859/20, 16 November 2020, LIMITE, pdf)

Further reading

16 November 2020

EU statement on recent terrorist attacks: Counter-Terrorism Coordinator's input

28 July 2020

EU: New 'Security Union Strategy' - all the documents

24 February 2020

EU: "Data lakes", broken silos, changing the law: Counter-Terrorism Coordinator enthusiastic for Europol's new 'innovation hub'

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