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Office of Technology Assessment at the German Bundestag Office of Technology Assessment at the German Bundestag

Information on the project

Observation technologies in the field of civil security — opportunities and challenges

Thematic area: Technology, society, innovation
Analytical approach: TA project
Topic initiative: Committee on Internal Affairs and Committee on Education, Research and Technology Assessment
Status: ongoing
Current project phase: Report preparation
Duration: 2016 till 2017

Background and central aspects of the topic

The progress made in informatics, sensor technology and biometrics allows for a wide range of applications for various reconnaissance, recording and evaluation technologies (referred to as observation technologies in the following). In the field of civil security, the fields of application are ranging from traffic monitoring and accident assistance, securing of major events, monitoring of forest fires, flood hazards and other natural disasters to the fight against crime and terrorism. Accordingly, the dissemination and use of observation technologies by public authorities and institutions has increased significantly in recent years. Moreover, information from social networks and sensor data of increasingly mobile and interconnected telecommunications equipment are increasingly used for risk prevention and information as well as for decision-making in complex deployment scenarios.

The use of observation technologies in the field of civil security is the subject of controversial debates both in society and science. On the one hand, observation technologies are considered to have a key function for risk prevention and information as well as for crisis management. They can be of major benefit for the state to fulfil one of its core missions: ensuring civil security. On the other hand, questions with regard to the effectiveness, proportionality and reliability of such measures are raised again and again. Can public observation measures actually help identifying hazardous situations in due time, effectively preventing criminal acts or improving disaster management? How much privacy shall be abandoned for a (supposed) gain in security? Who shall observe whom and why? What happens to the data collected? In the context of ever more powerful observation technologies, the state has to face completely new challenges in finding a balance between society's need for protection and the personal rights and civil liberties of individuals.

Objectives and approach

Within the framework of the project, the objective is to identify and analyze – based on technical possibilities available today, but also with regard to recognizable technical enhancements – the relevant societal issues and challenges resulting from an increasing availability of observation technologies in the field of civil security. The major objective of the project is to provide the factual basis for forming a political opinion with regard to setting the required framework conditions for using these technologies.

The societal and political debate on the suitability, necessity and proportionality of observation measures in the field of civil security depends to a high degree on the technology in question as well as on the respective context of its application and use. Thus, in a first exploratory phase of the project, a first assessment of the current status and the perspectives of the scientific-technological developments as well as of the fields of application and (potential) deployment scenarios shall be made.

Moreover, the exploratory phase is intended to investigate the relevant German and European research activities in the context of observation technologies in the field of civil security and to discuss the research projects already completed with regard to the results obtained. This is done against the background that in Germany and the EU numerous public research projects – which are comprehensive regarding their content and the financial effort involved – have been launched in recent years and that quite a few new research projects are currently planned.

Based on the findings obtained in the exploratory phase, the aim is to identify – in the further course of the project – the fields of application and deployment options of observation technologies in the field of civil security which are subject of controversial debates in society and politics. For the fields of application that will be identified, the ethical, political and legal arguments and issues shall be analyzed and discussed in depth with the objective of identifying needs for political action and of developing corresponding options.

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