Article by Ben Hayes for the Economist’s “European Voice” newspaper, published 2 December 2010.

The robot armies at our borders

The EU is entering a new, and disturbing, phase in its efforts to police its borders.

In a hi-tech upgrade to ‘Fortress Europe’, the EU is developing drone planes, satellite surveillance systems, unmanned ground and marine vehicles, even combat robots, to be deployed to ‘defend’ Europe from migrants.

The policy is the result of a convergence in the EU’s ‘industrial competitiveness’ strategy, which has identified the global ‘homeland security’ market as one in which Europe should prosper, and an EU approach to migration control that places the prevention of refugees and undocumented migrants from crossing borders above any other objective, principle or approach.

In this upgrade, the defence sector, the surveillance industry and quasi-autonomous EU bodies such as Frontex and the European Defence Agency are joining forces.

More than €50 million in EU funds from the security research component of the Commission’s seventh framework programme for research (FP7) has already been allocated to the adaption of military surveillance techniques to Europe’s borders – and the programme is still in its infancy. Defence giants such as BAE Systems, Finmeccanica, Thales, EADS, Dassault Aviation, Sagem and Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) feature in numerous consortia. At least six EU-funded projects envisage the use of ‘drones’ (or unmanned aerial vehicles, UAVs) for border control; others promise an array of surveillance and detection technologies.

They have names such as Seabilla, Sectronic and Talos, and ‘24/7 blue and green border situation awareness’ is their objective. Talos – a €20 million partnership between PIAP (a Polish producer of combat robots), IAI (the state-owned manufacturer of Israeli drones) and others – is field-testing “a mobile, modular, scalable, autonomous and adaptive system for protecting European borders” that will “take measures to stop the illegal action almost autonomously with supervision of border guard officers” – combat robots (or ‘Robocops’ perhaps?) in plainer terms.

It would be comforting to dismiss this research as a meeting of science fiction and science fancy, but the US has already deployed an equivalent – Predator drones – along its border with Mexico, part of an $850m (€624m) investment that also includes a ‘virtual fence’.

The determination to create a similar virtual fence in Europe is very real. The European Council has endorsed the European Commission’s Eurosur proposals for a hi-tech European border surveillance system and Frontex is now investing in fixed surveillance and border-drone technology (expressions of interest are currently being invited for UAV demonstration projects).

The European Defence Agency is also involved, by funding manufacturers to develop collision-avoidance systems and other measures needed to ensure the drone programme does not fall foul of rules on the use of drones in civilian airspace. At least seven member states are exploring how they might use drones for civilian security purposes.
There has been little comment so far about these plans in general or, specifically, about Europe’s intended deployment of drones, a technology now synonymous with ‘targeted assassinations’. The UN, though, has spoken forthrightly about the US’s drone programme: Phillip Alston, the UN’s special rapporteur on extra-judicial killings, has accused it of giving the CIA a “licence to kill” and encouraging a “Playstation mentality” that devalues human life.

The hi-tech vision of the EU’s military researchers might be a less discomforting prospect if there were some assurance that the drones and other systems would simply be used to detect and rescue those on the overloaded and ramshackle boats and rafts in which so many perish.

But a sense of comfort is impossible, amid reports – for example – of European naval patrols “deliberately overturning” boats carrying migrants and of EU-sponsored Libyan patrols opening fire on Italian fishermen.

The EU’s interventions may already be making the sea more dangerous; drones and other robotic tools will add to the risks of a Playstation mentality developing along Europe’s borders.

The EU stands on the cusp of a shameful investment in a dystopia.

Ben Hayes is a project director for the civil liberties group Statewatch.

You can view the original article on www.europeanvoice.com.

Europe’s leading drone manufacturers have joined forces in yet another EU-funded R&D project on the development of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or ‘drones’. The OPARUS project brings together Sagem, BAE Systems, Finmeccanica, Thales, EADS, Dassault Aviation, ISDEFE, Israel Aircraft Industries and others to “elaborate an open architecture for the operation of unmanned air-to-ground wide area land and sea border surveillance platforms in Europe”. The consortium has received €11.8 million in EU funding.

Meanwhile IPS reports that FRONTEX has invited expressions of interest in a tender to demonstrate “Small UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) and Fixed systems for Land border surveillance”.

Another article, by Dave Cronin, reports that the European Defence Agency (EDA) has now launched the SIGAT project (Study on the Insertion of UAS in the General Air Traffic), featuring EADS, Sagem, BAE and Dassault (see also previous post on the EDA’s drone programme).

Finally, Cronin’s article also notes that Sagem has entered into a “joint venture” with Elbit, the Israeli company which manufactured some of the most lethal weaponry ever used in Gaza.

The EU is also holding its annual security research conference this month, from 22-24 September in Ostend, see conference website.

SCR ’10 is focussed on the EU’s R&D programme (the security research component of FP7) and includes plenary sessions on “Halfway through FP7″,  “After Lisbon: The continuum of internal and external security” and “Security as a pre-requisite for prosperity”.

In addition, there are dedicated sessions on Maritime Security, Standardisation, CBRN, Cybersecurity, Transport Security, Security of the Citizens (sic), Security of Infrastructures, Restoring Security, Improving Security, Security and Society and the coordination of EU Security Research.

As with the Berlin security research conference, “ethics and justice” are squeezed into a single session (on Security and Society). The words privacy, human rights, governance and accountability do not appear anywhere in the conference programme.

The conference also includes a “brokerage event” and exhibition to “facilitate networking between companies, scientific experts, operators and policy makers”. More than one thousand participants are expected.

The European Journalism Centre (EJC) and the European Commission are co-organising a one and a half-day briefing tackling the “current state of play on security research, its challenges and its opportunities in the future”.

Here is an e-mail from FRONTEX that we did not receive:

We would like to inform you that Frontex R&D Unit has issued a tender call for the conduct of two studies as follows:

1.    Ethics of Border Security

2.    Forward Study on European Border Checks

The deadline for proposals is 21 May 2010 and the studies should be completed within 6 months, in close consultation with us.

As companies/institutions/individuals with whom we have had fruitful contact in the past, we would like to invite you to consider making a proposal for one or both studies should the subject be within your area of expertise, or to forward this information to others who you believe can offer the skills we are looking for.

Full details on the tender can be found at: http://www.frontex.europa.eu/procurement/calls_for_tenders_above_60000/

Please note that the “above €60,000” figure mentioned refers to both studies TOGETHER, though each lot can be bid on separately.

Fresh from agreeing a Transatlantic government pay-off to end bribery and corruption investigations, it has emerged that BAE systems has been awarded a €2.3 million contract to develop a “Strategic crime and immigration information management system” (SCIIMS) for the European Union.

The contract has been awarded by the European Commission under the €1.4 billion EU Security Research Programme (ESRP), part of the ‘FP7‘ framework programme 2007-2013. The ESRP has been dominated by defence and IT contractors keen to diversify into the highly lucrative ‘Homeland Security’ market.

The EU contract tasks the SCIIMS consortium with developing:

“new capabilities improve the ability to search, mine, and fuse information from National, trans-national, private and other sources, to discover trends and patterns for increasing shared situational awareness and improving decision making, within a secure infrastructure to facilitate the combating of organized crime and in particular people trafficking to enhance the security of citizens”

Essentially an international police intelligence system for use by European and national agencies responsible for combating trafficking in human beings and organised crime (including EUROPOL and FRONTEX), SCIIMS represents the further outsourcing of EU policy to private contractors under the ESRP.

The stated objectives of the project are to develop “a secure information infrastructure in accordance with EU Crime and Immigration Agencies information needs” along with “tools to assist in decision making in order to predict, analyze and intervene with likely people trafficking and smuggling sources, events, and links to organized crime”.

The use of controversial information technologies such as data mining, profiling and predictive modelling are explicitly mandated by the EU contract, in spite of widespread concerns about their legality and effectiveness. Both the UN Special Rapporteur on Counter-Terrorism and Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights have recently called on governments to regulate and limit the use of these kind of technologies.

SCIIMS will mine “large data sets” in the hope of producing useful intelligence for state agents. This could include EU databases such as the EUROPOL and Schengen Information Systems, as well as national police and immigration databases in the member states. Unless these practices are regulated by national or international law, they will almost certainly be unlawful. Yet there is no mention whatsoever of data protection within the EU-BAE contract.

The SCIIMS project is coordinated by BAE Systems’ Integrated Systems Technologies Ltd. UK. BAE’s partners in the SCIIMS consortium are:

  • Elsag Datamat S.P.A., Italy (a Finmeccanica company)
  • Indra Sistemas S.A., Spain
  • Denodo Technologies SL, Spain
  • Universidade da Coruna, Spain
  • Columba Global Systems Ltd. (Ireland)
  • The Computer and Automation Research Institute of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences

___________________________

Start date:2009-11-01
End date:2012-10-31 
Duration:36 months 
Project Reference:218223 
Project cost:3595562 EURO 
Project Funding:2318996 EURO 
Programme Acronym: FP7-SECURITY
Programme type:Seventh Framework Programme 
Subprogramme Area:Secure strategic information management system 
Contract type:Collaborative project (generic)


A Harfang UAV at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan

Further evidence of the EU’s unswerving commitment to the introduction of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs, or pilotless ‘drone’ planes) into European airspace has emerged in recent weeks. The European Commission, however, is yet to issue as much as a single communication explaining the EU’s UAV programme or setting out policy options for the member states.  So much for openness and transparency.

At present, drones/UAVs are only permitted to operate in ‘segregated airspace’ for military operations because of fears about public safety. Manned aircraft operating in commercial airspace are subject to stringent air traffic control safety regulations; those promoting UAV’s have yet to convince regulators of their safety (see the second comment in this post for a list of notable accidents). Last week the UK Civil Aviation Authority grounded an unlicensed Merseyside Police drone following the Force’s boast that it had been used to track down a car thief.

The European Defence Agency (EDA) has just awarded a contract to the European defence giant EADS and its subsidiary Astrium, Europe’s largest space company, to lead a six-month feasibility study demonstrating the safety of UAVs in civil airspace. EADS, the self-proclaimed “leading manufacturer of UAVs in Europe”, will use a Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) UAV in the attempt to convince regulators, while Astrium will provide the satellite-based services “needed to operate the UAVs safely in civil airspace”. EADS and Astrium already use this technology in Afghanistan, where the French air force have deployed one of their Harfang UAVs.

According to ASDNews, the consortium will meet key European civil and military stakeholders during the study in order to “receive their endorsements on safety and regulatory policy, and on future applications”. ASDNews also predicts that upon completion of the study, the EDA and the European Space Agency (ESA) will jointly fund a full demonstration programme. One wonders when, if ever, the European Parliament or the member states will be formally consulted?

“The outcome of this study will further reinforce our capability to propose leading-edge and secured solutions to our customers” said Bernhard Gerwert, CEO Military Air Systems, an integrated Business Unit of EADS Defence & Security. Like the European Defence Agency, FRONTEX is also doing its bit for UAVs and will host an event in Spain for manufacturers this coming June.

See previous posts on this topic:

Two upcoming international conferences on the theme of border controls showcase the people, organisations and corporations building the state apparatuses of the future – but who is holding them to account?

Border Security 2010 is a commercial venture of the SMI Group on “land, air and maritime border security issues” that also has a counter-terrorism and public order focus. The event is sponsored by a host of defence and Homeland Security companies and takes place in Rome on 3-4 March 2010, following “sell out events in Istanbul in 2008, and Warsaw in 2009″.

Keynote speakers include Edgar Beugels (Head of Research and Development Unit, Frontex), Keith Best, (UK Immigration Advisory Service) and Thomas Tass (Executive Director, Borderpol). The conference also includes presentations on:

  • The EFFISEC project (an FP7 project on checkpoint security)
  • ‘Border Violence’ (brought to you by the European office of the Department of Homeland Security)
  • EADS National Security Programme for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
  • Uses for unmanned aerial systems [drones etc.] in Border Security Operations
  • Security Planning and Technological Application in International Major Events: The Italian G8 Summit Experience
  • NATO’s International Border Security Agenda
  • Biometric Technologies for Border Processing (from the EU-funded European Biometrics Forum)
  • Analysis of the Mumbai Terror Attacks
  • UK National Security & UK Maritime Security
  • See full programme (pdf)

For its 2011 event SMI plans “a special focus on the use of border management technologies” with “special insights into how different surveillance technologies are being used to aid decision making and improve security at all levels”. Heralding a new era of government by robot, ‘Border Security 2011′ will consider “how far the human factor is being replaced and what your role will be in the 21st century environment”.

This theme is taken up by the second event. Towards E-Borders: The impact of new technologies on border controls in the EU takes place at the Academy of European law in Trier on 22-23 April 2010. The seminar will “take stock of the use and the impact of new technologies on EU borders” and the “role of Frontex and Europol”. Speakers include:

  • Erik Berglund (Director of Capacity Building Division, Frontex Agency, Warsaw)
  • Roland Genson (Director, Police and Customs Cooperation, Schengen Directorate, General Secretariat of the Council of the EU, Brussels)
  • Julie Gillis and Ian Neill (Director and deputy, e-Borders Programme, UK)
  • Jean-Dominique Nollet, Head of Analysis, Serious Crime Department, Europol)
  • Frank Paul (Head of Unit, Large-scale IT-systems and Biometrics, Directorate-General Justice, Freedom and Security, European Commission)

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