Monday, October 20, 2014

Ethical and legal constraints for ARGOS system: Why and how to identify them?

There are several reasons to explore potential ethical and legal implications stemming from innovations in Critical Infrastructure (CI) protection. At a first sight, everyone understands that CI must be safeguarded, and that it might require some restrictive measures: you just cannot freely walk through and do whatever you want in a facility, which provides an electricity, potable water, or gas for a city populated with a million fellow citizens. On the other hand, does any infrastructure deserve a right to impose limitations on people’s freedom of move, or even break their privacy when they get any closer? These are questions that arise with deploying technical measures of CI physical security. ARGOS system is going to be such a technical measure. Development of such a technological platform does not take place in a vacuum.

The design, development, testing, and using the system necessarily have to reflect the realities and context of the current complex society. Especially with regard to the European Union (EU) societal environment, there are particular issues to be tackled like balancing the rights and obligations imposed on citizens, organizations, and member states, and balancing the roles between private and public sectors. Moreover, the research and development are not value free; without proper foresight, guidance, and control they can bring about unintended consequences. In general, the abuse of the edge-cutting technology – or innovative mixtures of technology – for malicious purposes is an ever present risk.

The nature and purpose of ARGOS system effectively prevents any offensive, criminal, or harmful use. This is a first major ethical and legal implication that can be taken for granted: nobody might ever be killed or injured due to ARGOS system directly deployed. However, this still does not automatically mean an exhaustive ethical soundness and compliance with law.

So the major task is to cover the very question of any ethical issue raised by ARGOS architecture. Are there any substantial ethical issues if all – clearly and simply stated – legal demands are met? The initial survey indicated the areas where such concerns can arise. They include privacy protection, personal data protection, and property rights. ARGOS system has from the initial idea been intended to avoid all these concerns by its very design. Still, the consortium and its members have chosen to follow a precautionary principle, which necessitates for the exploration of any potential difficulties or clashes with relevant legal, ethical, and social standards. In a glance, in all these areas there is no obvious or self-evident conflict between ARGOS features and ethical standards. With high probability, the ARGOS system does not pose an ethical concern per se.

In a broader view, the deliberation on ethical standards actually means to answer the question what is right and what is wrong, and to confront this answer with the design and use of the ARGOS system. Here the context is crucial. The ARGOS platform is intended for purposes of the Critical Infrastructure (CI) protection. If the CI protection is declared as a component of public interest then almost all and every protective measure is ethically acceptable, in other words “right”. Including highly controversial measures like a property search which clearly is infringing the privacy right. The legal supremacy of the public interest, however, justifies even highly offensive and privacy disrespectful actions, if all other legal demands (e.g. warrant by the court of justice) are satisfied. This is a guiding principle derived from cases in CI physical security. Much more difficult is the situation when a private property without CI status is protected by a technology with a potential to infringe the privacy or processing the personal data. Despite the fact of using terms “ethical” and “legal” issues, as a matter of fact there is no distinction between these two sets. From a perspective of the CI protection, there are no “ethical” standards per se that would not be incorporated in law.

Hence, the legal issues related to ARGOS system are governed by standards set for data protection, privacy protection, and to a lesser extent also the property issues. There exists an EU legislation as a minimum standard, and national legislations of member states might add particular requirements that must be taken into account, too.

The last area included into consideration is the potential social concern. Development and application of any innovative technology or system brings about a potential impact on overall level of employment in both directions. There might be new jobs induced due to production and operating new assets, and increased level of automation and operational autonomy usually reduces the labour and manpower needed to provide the same amount of goods and services. In particular case of linear CI assets in unpopulated, rural, or semi-urban areas it is obvious that their physical protection cannot be efficiently provided by security personnel. Here, the ARGOS system does not actually replace the service previously performed by any substantial number of employees but rather augments, integrates, and synthesizes sensors that have already been deployed in the past.

Closer examination into these issues is needed for the consortium partners to settle their doubts over potential clashes with legal and ethical requirements but also for the future users. They are actually the entities responsible for running their CI protective facilities (including ARGOS solution) in accordance with the national legislation. Operators are responsible for registration of their protective measures with their national authorities for data and privacy protection, and letting them assess the compliance with the law. The future ARGOS users – as the CI operators – are not only bound by legal requirements per se but are encouraged to follow them in a consequence of their corporate social responsibility, too.

Libor Stejskal
Charles University in Prague, Faculty of Social Sciences

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