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EU court rules research can be trade secret in lie detector biometrics project

EU court rules research can be trade secret in lie detector biometrics project

An EU panel of judges has rejected an appeal to overturn a court judgment preventing the release of details about government efforts to build video lie detectors.

The three appellate judges dismissed claims by a German member of the European Parliament that the public has a right to known about taxpayer-funded research into possible systems designed to read emotions and spot deception.

They sided with a previous judge who, in 2021, said commercial interests in the case outweigh the public’s interest in access to information. The work in question is merely government and commercial research.

At issue is the possibility of requiring people to make a video call before an international flight as part of iBorderCtrl, the Union’s ongoing project formed to find new data systems. Its goal is to apply novel data innovations to protection against illegal immigration and to border efficiencies.

Patrick Breyer, German member of the European Parliament, lost his appeal. He had named the Research Executive Agency as the defendant because it coordinated funding of the research under the seven-year-old iBorderCtrl program. iBorderCtrl, in turn, is part of the Horizon 2020 EU research project. The program appears to have ended in 2019.

Breyer describes himself as a “digital freedom fighter” on the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee.

A post on his site says the emotion recognition research is less of a general what-if effort and more of a publicly acknowledged and growing EU interest in algorithms that have divided the biometrics community. Some see promise, some see certain failure and others see overreach.

Breyer says innocent travelers who fail the biometric test would have to defend themselves against an accusation by software. And there is no telling how widely that assessment (correct or not) would follow people.

Information reportedly being withheld includes the legal and ethical implications, how the software might prevent profiling, practices for collecting personal data and results assessments.

In fact, Breyer is claiming a qualified win because his suits, he said, forced the government to disclose more information than it had.

And the judges further defined how the government handles public-private situations like this one: “results of a project are not per se trade secrets.” Also, “only the ‘tools and technologies’ developed within the framework of the project” can be viewed as trade secrets, according to Breyer.

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