A five-year research programme, called Project Indect, aims to develop computer programmes which act as “agents” to monitor and process information from web sites, discussion forums, file servers, peer-to-peer networks and even individual computers.
Its main objectives include the “automatic detection of threats and abnormal behaviour or violence”.
Project Indect, which received nearly £10 million in funding from the European Union, involves the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and computer scientists at York University, in addition to colleagues in nine other European countries.
Shami Chakrabarti, the director of human rights group Liberty, described the introduction of such mass surveillance techniques as a “sinister step” for any country, adding that it was “positively chilling” on a European scale.
The Indect research, which began this year, comes as the EU is pressing ahead with an expansion of its role in fighting crime, terrorism and managing migration, increasing its budget in these areas by 13.5% to nearly £900 million. ‘
The European Commission is calling for a “common culture” of law enforcement to be developed across the EU and for a third of police officers – more than 50,000 in the UK alone – to be given training in European affairs within the next five years.
According to the Open Europe think tank, the increased emphasis on co-operation and sharing intelligence means that European police forces are likely to gain access to sensitive information held by UK police, including the British DNA database. It also expects the number of UK citizens extradited under the controversial European Arrest Warrant to triple.
Stephen Booth, an Open Europe analyst who has helped compile a dossier on the European justice agenda, said these developments and projects such as Indect sounded “Orwellian” and raised serious questions about individual liberty.
“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,” he said.
“The EU lacks sufficient checks and balances and there is no evidence that anyone has ever asked ‘is this actually in the best interests of our citizens?’
Miss Chakrabarti said: “Profiling whole populations instead of monitoring individual suspects is a sinister step in any society.
“It’s dangerous enough at national level, but on a Europe-wide scale the idea becomes positively chilling.”
According to the official website for Project Indect, which began this year, its main objectives include “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”.