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Big brother „video lie detector“: EU research funds are misused to lobby for legislative changes

Part of the EU-funded “iBorderCtrl” research project was about lobbying for new legislation required for the deployment of the highly controversial system that comprises a “video lie detector” to be used on travellers. This is what the EU tried to hide in a partially redacted document, which has now been restored using technical means.

While the Commission publicly claims that “iBorderCtrl was a research project and did not envisage the piloting or deployment of an actually working system”, the secret parts of the redacted “communications plan” reveal that the iBorderCtrl consortium collaborated with industry “so that [iBorderCtrl] can easily be the basis for many other applications for other target groups and even other application domains”. The document goes on to acknowledge that “a statutory legal basis will be required” to use the “deception detection” and other technologies at borders. “To foster such legal reforms” the consortium envisaged “dissemination activities to … stakeholders” such as Members of Parliament, the Commission and border authorities.

Regarding public communications on the project the consortium considered “it might be difficult to utilise the wider public to foster an implementation of iBorderCtrl solutions” because “others might feel that the technologies proposed by iBorderCtrl should not be used at all due to ethical concerns”. “[I]t is unlikely that … a robust majority of citizen in favour of the adoption / implementation of iBorderCtrl tools … could be achieved”, and “a controversial public debate might also even hamper the implementation of policies required for iBorderCtrl”.

While the consortium originally intended to publish several documents, after public criticism it decided to withhold these from public scrutiny. Member of the European Parliament Patrick Breyer is suing the EU‘s Research Executive Agency over its refusal to disclose documents on the project, including an ethical assessment and a report on the legality of the technology.

„I am shocked to find that EU research funds are in fact used to lobby for legislative changes curtailing our fundamental rights“, comments Breyer. „I expect the Commission to disclose how widespread this practise is, and to immediately stop the scandalous abuse of research funds for lobbying! It is appalling that the EU Research Executive Agency supports industry‘s attempt to manipulate and instrumentalise the public by withholding essential facts on dystopian technology. We need to urgently put a stop to research into surveillance and control technology that is both unethical and illegal to use. There is no such thing as harmless research.“

This week the European Parliament will vote on the Horizon research framework for the next years and a new European Defence Fund for the development of weapons. The iBorderCtrl project to deploy an AI-driven “lie detector” on travellers has been criticised for wrongfully accusing countless travellers of lying due to the unreliable technology. It is also feared that the technology could discriminate against ethic minorities. While the iBorderCtrl project is completed, the EU continues to fund the piloting of unscientific “sincerity assessment” technology at borders with an 8 million Euro grant for the “TRESPASS” project.

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