INDECT – privacy ethics in a secret project

By EDRi · September 8, 2010

This article is also available in:
Deutsch: [ INDECT – Datenschutzethik eines Geheimprojekts |]

A new document on ethical issues published by the INDECT European
research project on public surveillance has once more attracted the
scrutiny of the media. Previous allegations of secrecy were followed
by an attempt to strengthen the project’s Ethics Board. The new
document however notes that addressing ethical concerns requires time
that cannot be spent on research. It therefore recommends to simply
stop disclosing any project deliverables that could negatively impact
“organisational reputation” and other sensitive topics.

The INDECT Project, funded with almost 11 million euros, aims to research on
“Intelligent information system supporting observation, searching and
detection for security of citizens in urban environment” but was
qualified by The Telegraph last year as the “‘Orwellian’ artificial
intelligence plan to monitor public for ‘abnormal behaviour'”.

Following the article, a lot of public pressure was put from media, civil
society and the European Parliament. MEPs addressed to the European
Commission 10 questions in the past year related to the project and its
privacy ethics.

One of the answers of the European Commission was: “In order to
further enhance the role of the project’s Ethics Board, the Commission will
recommend to the project to add an additional independent expert. This
expert will have proven expertise in ethical and data protection issues”,
but, so far, the Ethics board has been dominated by Police Officers and no
privacy experts.

The project published in August 2010 a first public document that has as
objective “to give an overview of activities relevant to ethical issues
undertaken within INDECT during the first year of project work.”

One of the conclusions of the document shows in fact little consideration
for the public interest: “What is discouraging for persons working in INDECT
that instead of making research a significant amount of the time is consumed
for explaining what the project is NOT about.”

Moreover, as emphasized by, the document has also other
shortcomings in terms of secrecy, as most of the documents developed within
the project could remain away from the public eye:
“In addressing the issue of public disclosure, as presently deliverables do
not indicate any level of disclosure, it was agreed that:
– No issues that could impact negatively upon
o Law enforcement capability
o National Security
o Public Safety
o Organisational Reputation
should be published in the public domain
– Summary documents of such deliverables should not be published.”

In fact, two of the documents that have been made publicly available on the
project website, have disappeared from there. But they have re-appeared on
other independant websites, as pointed by the

Also, the initial video-presentation of the INDECT project, available on
YouTube and receiving a lot of negative comments, has now become just a
private video.

INDECT – Ethical Issues 2009 (17.08.2010)

EU Monitoring: INDECT keeping a low profile (only in German, 3.09.2010)

INDECT: The missing papers (only in German, 8.09.2010)

MEPs questions on INDECT project (2009-2010)

INDECT Ethics Board Members

EDRi-gram: Third PrivacyOS: More Privacy, Increased awareness (5.11.2009)