Ethically developed technology for safer societies – the PREVISION project case study

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Trilateral Research |

Date: 16 April 2020

The European Union invests billions of Euros in security-related research: the 2018-2020 work programme envisaged a budget of more than €1 billion for tackling challenges such as (cyber)crime, terrorism, threats to infrastructures as well as natural and man-made disasters.

This investment is rooted in the conviction that scientific research should underpin an effective and coordinated EU response to security threats. Support for preventing, investigating and prosecuting crime and terrorism has been among priorities of this research area, and PREVISION is one the projects funded under this priority.

Trilateral’s role is to develop measures to ensure the project complies with ethics and human rights and its results are not used for unethical purposes.

Tools created in PREVISION will be used by Law Enforcement Agencies, among others, to predict radicalisation risk as well as perform trend prediction.

Some of the methods could be classified as predictive policing, i.e., the use of analytical techniques by law enforcement to make statistical predictions about potential criminal activity.

However, if technical tools are developed with no attention to ethics or human rights, their use can easily cause human rights violations such as mass surveillance, personal data breaches, stigmatization, discrimination, intimidation and harassment. In extreme cases, such use can even lead to unjust incarceration.

Non-democratic regimes are already using technology to increase police state surveillance and restrict freedom. With the rise of so-called non-liberal democracies in Europe, there is a serious risk that capabilities provided are used for unethical purposes or their use is extended beyond those for which it was initially introduced (so-called mission or function creep).

Even in democratic states, there is a need for independent and effective oversight mechanisms capable of ensuring transparency and accountability.

The PREVISION project’s ethical approach

The PREVISION team is aware of the numerous pitfalls associated with data-driven policing and predictive policing. They have implemented a variety of measures and will be implementing more in the course of the project to address ethical and human rights risks.

Ethical and human rights reflection is mainstreamed in the entire project. It is not simply an add-on. Since day one, Trilateral has discussed ethics risks raised by specific tasks and measures that could be taken to address or resolve those issues with other partners. Ethics issues are included as a standing item on the agenda of all project online and face-to-face meetings.

In the first months of the project, we formulated ethical and legal guidelines for the development and use of Prevision tools as a reference point for all partners. The guidelines outline the ethical and human rights standards relevant to the project and explain how these should be implemented in PREVISION. Moreover, the partners have established an Ethics Advisory Board with external expertise. The board provides critical advice regarding ethical issues that arise from the project.

Although the risk of misuse of research results can never be eliminated, it can be minimised.

We are implementing mitigation measures including data and algorithmic transparency, assessment of the tools as well as adequate training and supervision of their use.

In order to identify further possible negative effects of PREVISION tools, the consortium will carry out a comprehensive impact assessment. This process will include conducting interviews with stakeholders, including civil society organisations.

If you are interested and would like to provide your input to the impact assessment, please contact our team.