Remember George Orwell’s ‘1984’ where the regime keeps an eye on everything, even the most private affairs of its citizens? Well, it seems that the European Union is headed on the same path. EU is spending millions of euros to develop such artificial intelligence technologies which can keep a close eye on the public.
So far, EU has doled out a massive £10 million to Project Indect, which aims to develop ‘invasive’ surveillance technologies. It’s a five-year research project which brings together computer scientists and experts from a total of ten European nations.
According to the official website of the project, it aims “to develop a platform for the registration and exchange of operational data, acquisition of multimedia content, intelligent processing of all information and automatic detection of threats and recognition of abnormal behaviour or violence.”
The worrying aspect is that Project Indect is part of EU’s efforts to implement unanimous monitoring and security measures all across Europe. This means that members of EU would then be able to share detailed intelligence information with each other.
An analyst with Open Europe, Stephen Booth, termed these measures as ‘Orwellian’ in nature, saying that they essentially infringe on the basic rights of the individuals. According to him, “This is all pretty scary stuff in my book. These projects would involve a huge invasion of privacy and citizens need to ask themselves whether the EU should be spending their taxes on them.”
The project is being developed to keep a close eye on the online activity of the users, from file sharing sites to P2P networks. Again, such monitoring can be used to effectively thwart any political dissent online and can become a tool to repress freedom of speech.
And that is just the tip of an iceberg. Another project, called ‘Automatic Detection of Abnormal Behaviour and Threats in Crowded Spaces’ or ADABTS, has been handed a cool £3 million by the EU. This project will try to find patterns of abnormal behaviour in individuals when they are in open spaces or crowd, through the CCTV footage.
Imagine walking into a country where every street corner has a CCTV camera and if you moved slightly awkwardly, it may report you as a national security threat to the intelligence. Next thing you know, you are being pulled into a black SUV and taken to an unnamed location. Yes, that is a little far-fetched but that is precisely where things are headed.
However, the Project coordinator Dr. Jorgen Ahlberg has a different perspective, “People usually don’t start to fight from one second to another. They start by arguing and pushing each other. It’s not that ‘oh you are pushing each other, you should be arrested’, it’s to alert an operator that something is going on. If it’s a shopping mall, you could send a security guard into the vicinity and things [a fight] maybe wouldn’t happen.”
While the teams working on the above-mentioned project repeatedly affirm that they will try their best to make the surveillance methods compliant with basic human rights, it looks like a tough call. And it becomes all the more harder to believe them given the fact that we have seen intelligence agencies abuse their monitoring powers in the past.