It is highly likely that many people will have heard of the European Commission’s £10 million INDECT project, the canny title for the “Intelligent information system supporting observation, searching and detection for security of citizens in urban environment”. In reality, you’re probably not really supposed to have anyway…
Let’s cut to the chase.
In the project’s own words, the EU has tasked scientists with creating a system which will allow for the “registration and exchange of operational data, acquisition of multimedia content, intelligent processing of all information” accessed online in the EU in order to detect terrorists operating online.
While the words used to describe the project might appear impenetrable to all but the geekiest of computer boffins, the intention of the project is clear: the creation of a vast database of all web sites, discussion forums, file servers and peer-to-peer networks accessed by the EU’s 500 million citizens.
In amongst the sea of technocratic language on the project’s website, one can find a rather scary video in which buccaneering, swashbuckling Eurocrats are seen quite literally saving humankind from the scourge of organised crime. It looks like something out of Spooks.
Add in the additional research INDECT is doing into facial recognition technologies and here’s what they’re aiming for:
Civil liberties concerns aside, the implantation of such a system would, by default, increase the European Union’s activism in the field of justice and home affairs policy. This would be to the clear detriment of national governments and police forces, many of whose jobs are already complicated by having to jump through bureaucratic hoops imposed by EuroPol and the Standing Committee on Operational Cooperation on Internal Security.
The EU has “form” when it comes to seeking to monitor the internet. As Iain Dale highlighted way back in September 2008, a group of MEPs attempted to pass a report “clarifying the status, legal or otherwise, of weblogs" with bloggers being asked to provide a “disclosure of interests” to an unspecified central authority. Mercifully, the proposal failed to advance beyond its first reading.
A Written Declaration – a tool similar to an Early Day Motion – has been tabled by a group of MEPs demanding that the Commission end its secrecy about INDECT and increase the level of transparency surrounding the project.
The Declaration clearly calls on the Commission to uphold its obligation to "safeguard civil liberties", expresses "concern about function creep, the possible impact on fundamental rights and the danger that researched technologies or collected information are used by public actors or third parties" and demands that the Commission "define a clear and strict mandate for the research goal, the application and the end users of INDECT".
You can download the text of the Written Declaration here.
While, alas, it appears the project cannot be stopped dead in its tracks, we must take all possible steps to ensure INDECT’s scope remains narrow as possible and that the ultimate application of any technology developed is hugely constrained.
Please do e-mail your MEP asking them to put their name to the “Written Declaration on INDECT (intelligent information system supporting observation, searching and detection for security of citizens in urban environment)”.
Their contact details can be found on the website of the UK Office of the European Parliament.