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Show documents on public funding for biometric lie detector system, EU lawmaker demands in court

biometric facial recognition

A lawsuit to force the European Union’s Research Executive Agency (REA) to release documentation for the funding of a trial of face biometrics-based lie detector system, brought by Member of European Parliament and civil liberties activist Patrick Breyer of the Pirate Party, has been heard in court, as Breyer recounts on his website.

The EU has funded a trial of iBorderCtrl software which is meant to detect lies told be people during border checks with video-based artificial intelligence.

Breyer also says the European Commission has yet to answer his parliamentary question on the potential of the system to deliver false accusations and other discriminatory effects.

He brought the lawsuit in 2019 and it reached court last year, though the program appears to have ended in 2019. iBorderCtrl was reportedly tested for its effectiveness in identifying untruthful answers through the assessment of micro-gestures, but not used to deny border crossings during the pilot.

A representative for the research agency behind the project’s public funding told the court that while the case raises questions about EU research grants, “democratic control of research funding is not necessary,” according to Breyer’s account. The limited access approach taken by the body in this case protected the commercial interests and reputations of participating companies, the agency argues.

The plaintiff’s representatives responded by suggesting the case will set a precedent for how commercial interests are balanced against transparency interests.

The judge questioned whether all of the ethical and legal assessments included proprietary or sensitive business information, and if the interest of the agency would not be served by increased transparency, Breyer says.

“The EU keeps having dangerous surveillance and control technology developed, and will even fund weapons research in the future, I hope for a landmark ruling that will allow public scrutiny and debate on unethical publicly funded research in the service of private profit interests,” comments plaintiff and MEP Breyer. He says the right of taxpayers, scientists, media and Members of Parliament to information on publicly funded research should be affirmed by the court.

TechCrunch notes that the Horizon 2020 program the funding was delivered through has a budget of roughly €95.5 billion (US$115 billion) from 2021 to 2027. Breyer says that as defenders of the program say it is not intended to contribute to scientific scholarship or public good, it is an industry support program, and should be considered as such.

He also says the expert group that performs assessments about ethics is made up almost exclusively of industry representatives, but they are not even mandated to perform ethics assessments unless the applicant flags their proposal as high-risk.

TechCrunch also interprets a statement on the iBorderCtrl website as admitting that an operational deployment of the technology would be illegal without legislative change.

A date for the delivery of a verdict has not been set.

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