LASIE project held a roundtable on accommodating ethics and efficiency in content extraction for digital evidence

15th January 2016

LONDON, 16 July 2015 – The LASIE project, or ‘LArge Scale Information Exploitation of Forensic Data’ (2014-2017), is a research project co-funded by the European Union (EU) under the 7th Framework Programme for Research and Development (FP7), which aims to ‘design and implement an open and expandable framework that will significantly increase the efficiency of current investigation practices, by providing an automated initial analysis of the vast amounts of heterogeneous forensic data that analysts have to cope with’. Nominally, it is – as the partners call it amongst themselves – a ‘gadget’-project, i.e. designing, developing and validating a tool constituting de facto a surveillance technology, and the vast majority of partners’ effort focuses thereon.

Acknowledging the fact that the development, design and implementation of such a ‘gadget’ can produce secondary societal impacts, the LASIE consortium comprises a partner responsible solely for legal and ethical compliance, i.e. the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO). In addition, a significant part of the consortium’s activities is devoted to the ethical and societal responsiveness of both its work and its final product. Furthermore, what is more important, the consortium wishes to be involved in a discussion on the reconciliation of the needs and efforts for the efficient post-crime investigation, on the one hand, and on ethical responsiveness of these needs and efforts, on the other. Ultimately, the LASIE consortium wishes to take the results of such a debate into account while their ‘gadget’ is being is developed and at the same time pave the way for further research projects.

Amongst plenty of forums in Europe for debating the impact of technology on the society, not many of them originate from technology developers. With a view to improve that, and following a successful debate of that type, held by the sister project ADVISE, or ‘Advanced Video Surveillance archives search Engine for security applications’, on 25 November 2014 in Pont-Saint-Martin, Val d’Aosta, Italy, as well as a roundtable at the 8th Computers, Privacy and Data Protection (CPDP) on 21 January 2015 in Brussels, Belgium, the LASIE consortium has decided to organise their sequel during the 1st LASIE public workshop on ‘Supporting forensic analysts in digital evidence retrieval and analysis’, itself meant to communicate the project’s developments thus far to the end-users and to seek their feedback.

The roundtable session ‘Ethics vs. efficiency in content extraction for digital evidence’ was held on 15 July 2015 in London, UK, at the premises of Queen Mary, University of London (QMUL) under the Chatham House Rule, and consisted of two parts. The first panel was composed by end-users, i.e. representatives from law enforcement authorities (LEA). The aim of the first debate was to discuss LEA’s respective needs and requirements relating to privacy, personal data protection and ethics. Among the questions discussed: What are the challenges faced by LEAs in which electronic surveillance systems can play a role? Are there any side effects for society stemming from enhanced surveillance measures? What is the difference between policing and national security? Does it necessitate different surveillance systems?

The second panel was composed by experts in ethics, privacy, personal data protection and forensics, as well as by policy makers and academics (researchers) working on European projects related to security and surveillance, who have kindly agreed to response to the end-users’ statements made in first panel. What technologies, fuelled by information, would never be accepted by the society? What ethical values, principles and ideas – other than privacy and personal data protection – need to taken into consideration in assessing surveillance?

Dariusz Kloza (PRIO) moderated both panels. A team composed by PRIO and QMUL researchers have prepared a public report from the roundtable, concluded by a few subjective observations on the topics discussed. The LASIE consortium considers the event very successful and therefore it will continue its efforts to organize or to take part in similar debates in the future.