Another surveillance project funded by the EU’s FP7 project that crosses the line into the realm of the ridiculous, reported this week by the Daily Telegraph in the UK.

There’s not much that can be said about the aims of this project that hasn’t already been said by those cited in the article, which is reproduced in full below. Following the Telegraph article is a video report from

Telegraph logo

David Millward, Daily Telegraph, 5 April 2010 (click here for original article)

Airline passengers could have their conversations and movements monitored under a European Union project aimed at tackling terrorism.

Brussels is funding research at Reading University aimed at detecting suspicious behaviour on board aircraft.

It uses a combination of cameras, microphones, explosives detectors and a sophisticated computer system which would give a pilot early warning of any danger.

But the work has alarmed civil liberties campaigners who fear the growth of the surveillance state.

At present intelligent CCTV systems which monitor and analyse passenger behaviour using computer software are used in a number of airports across the world, including at Hong Kong and Washington DC. They are designed to pick up unusual or suspicious behaviour, such as a bag being abandoned.

Currently security on airplanes is mainly limited to a CCTV camera located by the cockpit.

But under the new system microphones would be installed and passenger conversations listened to for the first time. Suspect words and phrases would alert a monitoring system.

Simon Davies, director of Privacy International, said: “Audio airline surveillance is the line that must never be crossed in a high security environment. Passengers must already face intolerable intrusions and restrictions on their movements. The day the airlines install hidden microphones on planes is the day that all trust in the airlines is destroyed.”

But the research also alarmed Gus Hosein a lecturer at the London School of Economics. “This is getting out of control. An airplane is not a privacy free zone.”

The Reading team, headed by James Ferryman, have already conducted trials of the camera system on a British Aerospace plane and the computer system on a mock Airbus.

“What we are doing is extending technology which is already used at airports and railway stations and placing it on an aircraft,” Dr Ferryman said.

Cameras dotted around an aircraft would look out for the abnormal, such as several passengers entering a lavatory at the same time or individuals seeming agitated.

One option would be to allocate some seats to passengers whose behaviour has already raised concern at the airport, so they could be monitored on board.

Microphones would eavesdrop for anything which could suggest terrorist behaviour. Inside the lavatories explosives sniffers would detect if a bomb was being assembled.

All this information would be analysed by computer and if it spotted something untoward, the flight deck would be told instantly.

SAMURAI is a “next generation” CCTV system capable of identifying and tracking individuals “acting suspiciously” in crowded public spaces. The project has received €2.5 million in EU funding under the Fp7 security research programme.

Unlike its ninja namesake, SAMURAI uses computer algorithms to profile people’s behaviour. The system also claims to learn about how people “usually behave” in the environments where “smart CCTV” is deployed. As SAMURAI researchers explained to New Scientist magazine, the system “is designed to issue alerts when it detects behaviour that differs from the norm, and adjusts its reasoning based on feedback. So an operator might reassure the system that the person with a mop appearing to loiter in a busy thoroughfare is no threat. When another person with a mop exhibits similar behaviour, it will remember that this is not a situation that needs flagging up”.

Here’s the demonstration video:

The project is led by Queen Mary’s University in London. Partners in the EU-funded SAMURAI consortium include BAA, the Spanish-owned British airports group, UK Defence contractor Waterfall Solutions Ltd., and Elsag Datamat, the surveillance-tech subsidiary of Italian arms giant Finmeccanica.

For more information see: SAMURAI project website and “Smart CCTV learns to spot suspicious types” (New Scientist, 15.12.2009).

In November 2009, the International Society of Military Sciences held its first annual conference on the theme of “Security in 2020 in a Multi Polar World”. The Society was established “to further research and academic education in military arts and sciences in the broadest sense”.

Here’s some ‘highlights’ from the conference:

  • Painless war: An illusory pipe-dream or a practice-based development? [Col. (ret.) Dr. Jan van Angeren (Netherlands Defence Academy]: There is a lot of attention from western media for the enemy’s pain (collateral damage, civilian casualties). Therefore, military forces are less inclined to inflict “pain” and more careful how to inflict it (e.g. precision bombardments etc.). There is a need for force in war, not only to defeat the enemy but to hurt (punish) him and to threaten him with. Because of the need of force in war and our disinclination to use it, our credibility to engage in coercive strategies is undermined.
  • Developing Future Counterinsurgency Doctrine [Dr. James Corum (Baltic Defense College)]: As a military we love “rapid, decisive operations,” yet there are no quick fixes in COIN and irregular warfare. Lead document: FM 3-24 – Strategic and Operational Requirements for COIN
  • Hybrid Wars (Leadership in contemporary armed forces) [Prof. Eyal Ben –Ari (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)]: Face of war/paradigm shift is cumulative/incremental. Changed context: Casualty aversion, Military humanitarianism, Media wars, Global Surveillance; Internal changes: Loose and temporary coalitions, ‘Hyphenated’ roles, Amalgamated organization, Privatization; Changed frameworks: Gender, Technology, Education, (Sex-Orientation); Challenges: Leaders as Center of Gravity, Career path (different influences) instead of Career Ladder
  • Surveillance systems with Multi-modal Sensors [Dr. Ir. Zhenke Yang (Delft University)]: Dr. Yang gave an interesting presentation about his promotion subject, which he had just finished. He studied the detection of aggression in trains by using camera’s and microphones. The goal was to decrease the human watch keeping, which is very expensive. He created a software model, which was able to detect aggression by only using these two sensors. When aggression was detected a watch keeper was informed. This application, although context sensitive, could be useful in military surroundings.
  • Self-Location of Sensors in Networks of Randomly Distributed Sensors [Ir. R.R. Hordijk (Netherlands Defence Academy)]: Mr. Hordijk gave an enthusiastic technical, presentation about his research. These days, sensors are getting so small that they could be thrown as a ‘cloud of smart dust’ in any location to gather information about this location (i.e. a conflict zone or an unknown area to measure temperature, pressure etc.). The problem he solved was how to find out the location of each sensor (or node). He created a model, using the ‘Hop-count-method’, to find out the distance to any node in the field.
  • Role of tissue simulants and their physical properties in the evaluation of non-lethal weapons [Dr. L. Koene (Netherlands Defence Academy)]: Dr. Koene gave a technical presentation about his research concerning mechanical non-lethal weapons. In his research he used ballistic gelatin as a tissue simulant for the human body.
  • Distinguishing extremism from terrorism: implications for social policy and military strategy [Shahzad Shafqat (University of Cambridge – UK)]: Words carry meaning; There is no exact definition for extremism; There are all kinds of extremisms (all kinds of extreme behavior): for example extreme ironing (just Google it…); Experiment result: the given background information determines whether extremism is seen as terrorism. The give background information shapes our response more than the act itself. So context is important; Without “threat” extremism isn’t terrorism
  • Perfect soldiers of the future: on chemical enhancement of the American military [Dr. Lukasz Kamienski (University of Krakow)]: Five area’s for future transformation of soldiers: (1) drugs (2) genetic engineering (3) cyber war soldier (4) robots (5) nanotechnology; Drugs for enhancing stamina of injured soldiers, against fatigue, suppressing battle stress, overcoming limitations of body and sleep-action regulation; Doping which are designed for sports (and can’t be used) are used by soldiers; Amphetamines (go-pills) for endurance for missions longer than 8 hours; Danger of genetic engineering; Genetic engineering will lead to redesigning human nature and therefore change nature of war. We are entering post-human era; It will lead to virtualization of war. Redesigned warriors will  become deadly machines; These solutions benefit tactics, not strategic thinking; Discussion: is a drug really that different from using a tool of weapon? Is both enhances our abilities to work, function or fight; Conclusion: chemical solutions are only temporarily effective. Let us keep it that way.

Soldiers on drugs? Surely it’ll never catch on…

Read the full proceedings here (word doc).


SAMURAI is a 2.5 million Euro FP7 security research project that aims to “develop and integrate an innovative intelligent surveillance system for robust monitoring of both inside and surrounding areas of a critical public infrastructure”.

SAMURAI will develop a “real-time adaptive behaviour profiling and abnormality detection system for alarm event alert and prediction with much reduced false operators and mobile sensory input for patrolling security staff for a hybrid context-aware based abnornal behaviour recognition”.

A workshop on “User Requirements for Intelligent Video Systems” was held in London last week, see program. See also SAMURAI project website.