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By Stephen Gardner. There has been much mock indignation in Brussels since former US National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden began drip-feeding his mass-surveillance revelations to the Facebook-obsessed world.

 

EU officials have demanded assurances from the US that European privacy rights will be respected – even as the security services of several EU countries, not least the United Kingdom, have been eagerly assisting the American cousins.

Less known is that the EU itself is getting in on the act. The European Commission controls the centralised EU research budget and hands out money to pan-European consortia for projects that deal with “societal challenges”. These include worthy causes such as health and cleaner energy. But “Secure societies – protecting freedom and security of Europe and its citizens” has also been identified as a societal challenge. Projects in this area look rather more dubious.

Under the latest incarnation of the EU research programme, Horizon 2020, security projects will tackle terrorism and crime through “Better understanding the role of new social media networks and their use for public security purposes” and by creating “Tools and infrastructure for the fusion, exchange and analysis of big data” – in other words, exactly what the NSA has been doing! According to Horizon 2020 programme documents, “huge amounts of data” culled from digital sources “can easily result in an information overload and represent a problem instead of a useful asset.” In 2014 and 2015 alone, the Commission will spend up to €79 million of taxpayers' money in an effort to remedy the data overload problem.

Much of the money for such projects goes to large security companies. In this respect, Horizon 2020 is unlikely to differ from previous EU research programmes. Watchdogs the Transnational Institute and Statewatch have calculated that, for example, at least €315 million of EU research money has gone to projects dealing with drones. Supposedly this is for law enforcement and applications such as disaster relief, but the companies carrying out the projects have a distinctly defence sector orientation: names such as BAE, Dassault, EADS, Finmeccanica and Israel Aerospace Industries frequently crop up. Companies participating in such projects retain the intellectual property – and can subsequently sell any new products back to their public sponsors!

A version of this article was published in Private Eye on 21 February 2014.

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