Greece plans automated drones to spot people crossing border

/greece-plans-automated-drones

  • With drones and thermal cameras, Greek officials monitor refugees

    Athens says a new surveillance system will boost security, but critics raise alarm over its implications for privacy.

    “Let’s go see something that looks really nice,” says Anastasios Salis, head of information and communications technology at the Greek Migration and Asylum Ministry in Athens, before entering an airtight room sealed behind two interlocking doors, accessible only with an ID card and fingerprint scan.

    Beyond these doors is the ministry’s newly-installed centralised surveillance room.

    The front wall is covered by a vast screen. More than a dozen rectangles and squares display footage from three refugee camps already connected to the system.

    Some show a basketball court in a refugee camp on the island of Samos. Another screen shows the playground and another the inside of one of the containers where people socialise.

    Overhead, lights suddenly flash red. A potential threat has been detected in one of the camps. This “threat” has been flagged by Centaur, a high-tech security system the Greek Migration Ministry is piloting and rolling out at all of the nearly 40 refugee camps in the country.

    Centaur includes cameras and motion sensors. It uses algorithms to automatically predict and flag threats such as the presence of guns, unauthorised vehicles, or unusual visits into restricted areas.

    The system subsequently alerts the appropriate authorities, such as the police, fire brigade, and private security working in the camps.

    From the control room, operators deploy camera-equipped drones and instruct officers stationed at the camp to rush to the location of the reported threat.

    Officers carry smartphones loaded with software that allows them to communicate with the control centre.

    Once they determine the nature and severity of the threat, the control room guides them on the ground to resolve the incident.

    Video footage and other data collected as part of the operation can then be stored under an “incident card” in the system.

    This particular incident is merely a simulation, presented to Al Jazeera during an exclusive tour and preview of the Centaur system.

    The aim of the programme, according to Greek officials, is to ensure the safety of those who live inside the camps and in surrounding communities.

    “We use technology to prevent violence, to prevent events like we had in Moria – the arson of the camp. Because safety is critical for everyone,” Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi told Al Jazeera at the November inauguration of a new, EU-funded “closed-controlled” refugee camp on Kos island, one of the first facilities to be connected to the Centaur system.

    ‘Dystopian’ surveillance project

    Nearly 40 cameras are being installed in each camp, which can be operated from the control room.

    There will also be thermal cameras, drones, and other technology – including augmented reality glasses, which will be distributed to police and private security personnel.

    “This was not to monitor and invade the privacy of the people [in the camps],” said Salis, one of the architects of Centaur. “You’re not monitoring them. You’re trying to prevent bad things from happening.”

    Greek authorities headline this new surveillance as a form of security but civil society groups and European lawmakers have criticised the move.

    “This fits a broader trend of the EU pouring public money into dystopian and experimental surveillance projects, which treat human beings as lab rats,” Ella Jakubowska, policy and campaigns officer at European Digital Rights (EDRi), told Al Jazeera. “Money which could be used to help people is instead used to punish them, all while the surveillance industry makes vast profits selling false promises of magical technology that claims to fix complex structural issues.”

    Recent reporting, which revealed Centaur will be partly financed by the EU COVID Recovery fund, has led a group of European lawmakers to write to the European Commission with their concerns about its implementation.

    Homo Digitalis, a Greek digital rights advocacy group, and EDRi said they made several requests for information on what data protection assessments were carried out before the development and deployment of Centaur.

    Such analysis is required under the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). They have also asked what data will be collected and how long it will be held by authorities. Those requests, they said, have gone unanswered.

    The Greek Migration Ministry did not respond to Al Jazeera’s query on whether an impact assessment was completed, and on policies regarding data retention and the processing of data related to children.

    In Samos, mixed feelings

    Advocates in Samos told Al Jazeera they raised concerns about camp residents being adequately notified about the presence of these technologies.

    But Salis, at the control centre, said this has been achieved through “signs – a lot of signs”, in the camps.

    The system does not currently incorporate facial recognition technology, at least “not yet”, according to Leonidas Petavrakis, a digital software specialist with ESA Security Solutions S.A., one of the companies contracted for the Centaur project.

    The potential use of facial recognition in this context is “a big concern”, said Konstantinos Kakavoulis of Homo Digitalis.

    Facial recognition systems often misidentify people of colour and can lead to wrongful arrests and convictions, according to studies. Human rights organisations globally have called for their use to be limited or banned.

    An EU proposal on regulating artificial intelligence, unveiled by the European Commission in April, does not go far enough to prevent the misuse of AI systems, critics claim.

    For some of those living under the glare of this EU-funded surveillance system, the feeling is mixed.

    Mohammed, a 25-year-old refugee from Palestine living in the new Samos camp, said that he did not always mind the cameras as he thought they might prevent fights, which broke out frequently at the former Samos camp.

    “Sometimes it’s [a] good feeling because it makes you feel safe, sometimes not,” he said but added that the sense of security came at a price.

    “There’s not a lot of difference between this camp and a prison.”

    https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/12/24/greece-pilots-high-tech-surveillance-system-in-refugee-camps
    #Grèce #réfugiés #asile #migrations #surveillance #complexe_militaro-industriel #drones #caméras_thérmiques #Samos #îles #camps_de_réfugiés #Centaur #algorythme #salle_de_contrôle #menace #technologie #EU_COVID_Recovery_fund #reconnaissance_faciale #intelligence_artificielle #AI #IA

    –—

    sur ces nouveaux camps de réfugiés fermés (et surveillés) dans les #îles grecques notamment :
    https://seenthis.net/messages/917173

    ping @etraces

    • Greece plans automated drones to spot people crossing border

      The Greek Migration Ministry announced it would use EU-funded drones with “Artificial Intelligence” to track people seeking refuge at the border. Promises that they will also improve search and rescue operations ring hollow.

      At the opening of the Thessaloniki International Trade Fair this September, Greek migration minister Notis Mitarakis – otherwise known for dismissing the ongoing evidence of Greek border guards’ brutal and illegal pushbacks of asylum seekers as “fake news” – made national headlines when he introduced his ministry’s latest project: €3.7m funding for drones with “innovative algorithms” that can “automatically identify defined targets of interest” at the Greek border.

      What did he mean? In a demo video, two men – one in sunglasses and a red shirt, another blurred – walk next to a line drawn through a field, with boxes marking them as “person”. As the guy in sunglasses walks closer towards the line, he gets labeled as “person of interest”. He starts running, jumps over the line, runs, lies down on a bench, disappearing from view. When he gets up, the box keeps tracking him.

      EU funding for Greek security projects

      “I actually recognize people from my department in this video”, one IT researcher told us, chuckling, at the Greek Ministry for Migration’s stall at the Thessaloniki Trade Fair on 13 September.

      His department – the Information Technologies Institute at the Center for Research and Technology Hellas (CERTH) – is in a quiet building in the outskirts of Thessaloniki. Here, researchers work on 27 different projects, mostly funded by the European Commission.

      The first time CERTH got funding for a security project was in 2017, when the European Union’s research and innovation program Horizon 2020 paid them to coordinate “ROBORDER”, an €8m project which aimed to develop and pilot “a fully autonomous border surveillance system” where, researchers said, robots will be able to identify humans and independently decide if they represent a threat. These days, the CERTH researcher says, there is a lot of interest from European institutions for funding “security projects”.

      REACTION

      Now, REACTION, or “Real-Time Artificial Intelligence for Border Surveillance” will also be CERTH-coordinated and funded by the European Commission’s Migration and Home Affairs Fund. It is set to start in November 2022, and run for 36 months.

      Computer scientist Stathes Hadjiefthymiades, who is part of the REACTION team, said they want to combine the research from ROBORDER and “AIDERS” – another EU-funded project aimed at processing data from drones, sensors and cameras to “improve emergency responses” in case of a fire, flood or shipwreck. The aim, he says, is to bring the technologies – “or goodies”, as he calls them – into the hands of the police, who want drones (as well as thermal sensors, motion detectors and cameras already installed at the Greek border) to alert them of border crossings.

      Once alerted, law enforcement will “not necessarily” stop people from crossing into Greece, Mr Hadjiefthymiades said. They could also be arrested or brought to camps and be instructed on how to apply for asylum. He added that pushbacks, which Amnesty International describes as “Greece’s de facto border policy”, are “in the news” but he does not believe that Greek border guards are pushing boats of asylum seekers back to Turkey.

      “Innovative algorithms”

      In his speech at the Thessaloniki Trade Fair, migration minister Mr Mitarakis said REACTION’s “use of artificial intelligence” will allow drones to identify and monitor “targets of interest”. However, one young man from the research consortium told us that “[the Migration Ministry] do not really know anything about what we are doing”, because they are “in a different field” and are “end users”.

      At the Thessaloniki Trade Fair, three drones were on display at the Greek Migration Ministry’s stall. Two were from the Chinese commercial drone maker DJI. The third was wrapped in wires and was, a presenter explained, trained to do what Mr Mitarakis said: scan an area, and, if it spots something “more interesting”, like a person crossing a border, independently change its course to track this person. However, the presenter told us, it is the only drone they have that can do this, because “on-board processing” is very expensive and requires a lot of energy.

      Mr Hadjiefthymiades confirmed that they were “dealing with reduced-size drones with limited on-board power. We are struggling to do on-board intelligence with off-the-shelf drones.”

      In the brochure for REACTION, the Greek migration ministry says that one of the project’s aims is “to use the funding to buy equipment needed for the border project.”

      Search and Rescue

      After police are alerted about a person or vehicle crossing the Greek border, “they will go see what is happening”, the young man from the research consortium told us. A woman, overhearing this, said angrily, “I will tell you what they do, they will either come with guns to shoot, or they will beat them”. Later, the young man admitted, “For me, the one thing is, I don’t know exactly what the police will do to the migrants after we alert them.” He grimaced. “But what can I do,” he said.

      When asked about REACTION’s claim that it will be used for “search and rescue”, the young man said he believed that people at the “Multimedia Knowledge Lab” at CERTH are training an algorithm to spot if someone is injured at the border. But Yiannis Kompatsiaris, a senior researcher there, told us that his lab is not currently training such an algorithm.

      In recent years, the Greek Coast Guard, like other European authorities, was repeatedly accused of delaying rescue operations. Earlier this month, Deutsche Welle published a report which showed that Greek authorities left a group of 38 asylum-seekers stranded on an islet on the Evros river, which marks most of the border between Greece and Turkey, despite a nearby pylon with heat sensors and cameras, which should have been able to immediately locate the group.

      Since 2017, open-source researcher Phevos Simeonidis tracks local and EU-funded border surveillance projects in Greece. So far, he says, “this ever-increasing apparatus always seems to fall short of assisting search and rescue, and also evidently turns a blind eye when footage or data could help individuals substantiate claims that they have been victims of human rights violations.”

      https://algorithmwatch.org/en/greece-plans-automated-drones

      #AI #IA #intelligence_artificielle #Real-Time_Artificial_Intelligence_for_Border_Surveillance #REACTION #ROBORDER #AIDERS #CERTH