Boiling the frog: ADVISE roundtable at the 8th Computers, Privacy and Data Protection (CPDP) 2015 Conference

On 21 January 2015 in the framework of 8th Computers, Privacy and Data Protection (CPDP) 2015 conference, the ADVISE project (Advanced Video Surveillance archives search Engine for security applications) organised a roundtable in Brussels on (privacy) impact assessments as a response to (smart) surveillance.

The event brought together representatives from policy-making, industry, small and medium enterprises (SMEs), research institutions and police forces with an aim to discuss how they safeguard privacy and personal data in their work. The main goal was not to discuss this problem in general terms, but solely to get acquainted with how these stakeholders deal with the down-to-earth, daily practice of safeguarding these rights. The organisers chose, as an example, to carefully analyse impact assessments – in particular privacy impact assessments – as a means to address the societal challenges posed by (smart) surveillance.

Alfred the Frog, who recently became a mascot for the project, was also present at the roundtable.He made his first appearance at the ADVISE Liaison Workshop on social acceptability of smart surveillance in Pont-Saint-Martin, Aosta, Italy on 24-25 November 2014. Since then, Alfred has travelled to Madrid, Spain to attend the ADVISE Second Workshop on discovering criminal acts and following criminal trails in public and private video surveillance archives (4 December 2014) and, more recently, to Brussels.

Alfred is an embodiment of the “boiling frog syndrome”: in the popular story, a frog put into a pot of boiling water immediately jumps out. But put it in a pot of cold water that is gradually heated, the frog allows itself to be boiled alive, not realising it is in any danger. The same can be said about modern surveillance practices. Were these to be introduced now, out of the blue, they would face overwhelming societal resistance. Instead, we have become used to them in gradual doses.

Therefore, the recent series of ADVISE events have discussed the means of how not to “boil the frog”. In particular, the main question posed has concerned the thin red line between acceptable and non-acceptable surveillance and the means to achieve the former.

Participants at the Brussels roundtable were introduced to the framework for assessing the impact of the ADVISE prototype on ethics, privacy and data protection. Next, stakeholders such as research institutions, SMEs and police forces, described and evaluated their means to safeguard these values. This was followed by and contrasted with a state-of-the-art in privacy impact assessment (PIA) for radio-frequency identification (RFID) applications.

Despite the conclusion of the ADVISE project in February 2015, the consortium partners are keen to continue this debate in their further research activities.