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Supporting fundamentAl rights, PrIvacy and Ethics in surveillaNce Technologies

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The surveillance situation

An EU group assisted European policymaking with an overview of the current state of surveillance. Recommendations included publicising the actual measures in use and assessing their impact, plus a warning not to count on public acceptance.

Digital Economy

Electronic surveillance today is ubiquitous and commonly accepted; however, many feel the situation has gone too far. Surveillance systems have already converged to become networked information systems, threatening civil liberties and privacy. European policymakers have acknowledged the situation with the Stockholm Programme, intended to restore balance and add a layer of ethical oversight. The EU-funded SAPIENT (Supporting fundamental rights, privacy and ethics in surveillance technologies) project supported policymakers, specifying conditions for use and verification of smart surveillance. The seven-member consortium also worked to provide information on the current state of surveillance studies, emerging technologies and adequacy of the existing legal framework. A further goal was to evaluate the general discourse and determine the level of public acceptance of surveillance. The partnership intended to create a methodology for balancing and verifying data privacy. The undertaking ran between February 2011 and July 2014. First, the study developed surveillance scenarios for discussion with stakeholders, intended to ascertain stakeholder views on the subject. The group adapted a privacy impact assessment framework for use in terms of smart surveillance, yielding a new framework subsequently used on three surveillance projects. The team summarised the lessons learned, using them to refine project methodology and recommendations. Major findings were as follows. The current image of balance between security and surveillance does not adequately reflect the policy challenges involved in developing appropriate methodologies. SAPIENT recommended that current measures used in data surveillance should be at the forefront of public discussions. The public is increasingly accepting of complex and ubiquitous surveillance systems, which gives power to users. Yet, reaction to the Snowden case showed that public response cannot be taken for granted either way. Growing capability of surveillance technologies increasingly strains the concept of personal data. The project recommended a comprehensive impact assessment of all such technologies, from a rights and economic impact point of view. Finally, the consortium developed a relevant methodology, tested on four case studies and then updated. SAPIENT detailed the current state of surveillance technologies and public acceptance thereof. The resulting methodology may help to balance privacy concerns with public needs.


Surveillance, public acceptance, networked information systems, fundamental rights, privacy concerns

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