EU: Crystal balls: internal security authorities want "technology foresight" (1)

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11.02.13 - The European Union is to call for the creation of an "internal security technology foresight function" that would ensure "proactive involvement" by law enforcement authorities with "research institutes and industry", and spread "innovative ideas and projects" amongst EU Member States and agencies such as Europol and Frontex.

This "foresight function" is intended to strengthen the work of the European Network of Law Enforcement Technology Services (ENLETS). Last year Statewatch revealed the existence of an ENLETS "wish-list" drawn up by representatives of Member States' police forces, which included the need for research and pilot projects on drones, surveillance equipment, devices to remotely stop vehicles, and non-lethal weapons. [1]

The network claims to be "active in joint initiatives, sharing information and networking between law enforcement agencies, industry and research organisations," [2] but a discussion paper put to the Standing Committee on operational cooperation on internal security (COSI) in November said that its "current functioning and results so far… are not yet satisfactory." [3]

The Irish Presidency's draft conclusions on "strengthening the internal security authorities' involvement in security-related research and industrial policy" - which were discussed at COSI's meeting last Wednesday - seek to remedy this situation, calling for Member States to "increase their support to the ENLETS" which "if properly supported could become a leading European platform" for "bridging the gap between the users and providers of law enforcement technologies." [4]

Last year Member States' delegates to ENLETS declared the network's "mission" - to "support front line policing and the fight against serious and organised crime by gathering user requirements, scanning and raising awareness of new technology and best practices, benchmarking and giving advice."

To support this mission, the draft document presents delegates with a choice of two options. With the first option, at least five Member States could "dedicate the necessary resources to support the foresight function," in which case it would "replace the ENLETS Core Group," currently made up of Belgium, Cyprus, Finland, France, Greece, the Netherlands, Poland and the UK.

The second option would see the Commission set up the foresight function either "within its services" or within the Joint Research Centre, the Commission's "in-house science service." [5] If this were to happen, Member States would "second experts to the foresight function."

Whichever option is chosen, it seems that COSI will get its wish of an institutionalised "contact point" that would act as a link between "internal security authorities" - police, immigration, and customs - and those industries which seek to supply them with new technology. The new body would, for example, be given the task of developing "an EU overview of the internal security authorities' needs," which would then be passed onto "the research institutes and industry."

JHA agencies - in particular Frontex and Europol - are also invited "to participate in the activities of the foresight function." The "realisations by Frontex in the field of research and development, notably in the framework of the European Border Surveillance System (EUROSUR) project" are singled out for praise in the preamble to the draft conclusions.

The development of EUROSUR - a vast, highly-controversial border surveillance system - has been driven by "close collaboration between Frontex, the Commission and the Member States." [6] Technological preparations and "substantial public expenditure" [7] were ongoing for five years before legislation was drafted and discussions began between the European Parliament and the Council. [8]

Member States are invited by the draft conclusions to join ENLETS and devote more resources to the network, and to "intensify the co-operation between public authorities and the private sector." The Commission should "consider the organisation of a regular conference between the law enforcement community, the Commission Services and the technology suppliers."

The document also calls on the Commission "to enhance the use of the 'pre commercial procurement' instrument and to devote the necessary security research budget to this instrument."

In July, the Commission issued a document on "Security Industrial Policy", outlining its plans for "an innovative and competitive security industry" to be driven by action at the EU level. The paper argues that "the main challenge the European security industry faces today is the highly fragmented nature of the EU security market," which has "several negative consequences both for the supply and the demand side." [9]

By "bridging the gap" between the security industry and state authorities, it seems that the "technology foresight function" will play a part in addressing the perceived problem of "fragmentation." In doing so, it may run up against criticism about the human rights and civil liberties issued raised by security technologies. The Commission's July paper notes that "another problem [for industry] is the uncertainty associated to the societal acceptance of security technologies." [10]

The draft conclusions note that the Commission's paper seeks to "better [integrate] the societal dimension," but the committee make no direct reference to issues such as privacy. However, they do note "the importance of using modern and adequate technologies in the field of internal security."

Given the interest amongst some Member States' police forces in drones, improved open source intelligence (OSINT) gathering capabilities, devices for remotely stopping vehicles, and non-lethal weapons (amongst other things), many people may question how "adequate" will be interpreted when the "foresight function" is established.

Previous coverage
- European police step up cooperation on technological research and development, Statewatch News Online, November 2012
- Eric Töpfer, A new player in Security Research: the European Network of Law Enforcement Technology Services (ENLETS), Statewatch Journal, vol 21 no 2, April-June 2011

[1] European police step up cooperation on technological research and development, Statewatch News Online, November 2012
[2] Presidency, Results of the ENLETS meeting held on the 18-19 September 2012 in Cyprus, 9 November 2012
[3] Presidency, Security-related research and industrial policy - issues to be discussed on user involvement, 22 November 2012
[4] Presidency, Draft Council Conclusions on strengthening the internal security authorities' involvement in security-related research and industrial policy, 31 January 2013
[5] European Commission, Joint Research Centre
[6] Frontex, Programme of Work 2012, p.28
[7] Ben Hayes & Matthias Vermeulen, Borderline: the New EU's new border surveillance initiatives, June 2012 , p.8
[8] Parltrack, European Border Surveillance System (EUROSUR)
[9] European Commission, Security Industrial Policy, 26 July 2012 p.18
[10] Ibid., p.27

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