New Technologies vs. Security of Public Spaces

As technological improvements come at break neck speed, it is difficult to judge whether modern technologies help protect our security or pose more of a threat. To explore this question in more detail, we engaged a domain expert for their perspective. Jarosław Przyjemczak, has a PhD in social science in the field of security and is former deputy commander of the Autonomous Counter-Terrorist Sub-Division of the Police in Gdańsk, and is well placed to help us understand this matter.

Nina Czyżewska (PPHS):

Jarosław, how should we assess the impact of technology on our safety? Is the future bright, or do we need to be concerned about this progress?

Jarosław Przyjemczak:

New technologies are extremely useful in designing security systems. Firstly, they are helpful from the perspective of those who care about the appropriate level of security. The technology can detect threats and manage emergencies accordingly. On the other hand, modern technologies and mechanisms are used by the “bad actors” to create threats. Therefore, it is impossible to give a clear answer whether this influence is good or bad.

NC – Exactly! Speaking of the bad actors. Could you tell us how dangerous new technologies are in the hands of criminals? Especially in the context of the safety of public spaces.

JP – It is well known that we can’t secure all facilities completely. Of course, we must try to keep the risks as low as possible. That is why, any new technology that assists the work of law enforcement agencies (LEAs) to secure public spaces is most welcome. However, the risk of an attack cannot be fully eliminated. We should know that the side that wishes to cause harm has many resources and ideas. The question of how these will be used is in the hands of the people who will design the assault. As a result, understanding and predicting the actual threats becomes more difficult for the security forces.

NC – Does that mean that “bad actors” have more resources than LEAs?

JP – I wasn’t talking here about the number of resources or funding. What I am referring to is their capacity to act, which is unrestricted. It means they can execute any plan or idea of an attack, physically or through internet connections. On the other hand, new technologies that support existing security systems, can limit the possibilities and help anticipate some of the actions they can take.

A photo from the APPRAISE project’s Pilot in Gdańsk.

NC – Are there any other challenges that LEAs have to face when dealing with security threats?

JP – The time when security services will learn about a planned or an existing attack is crucial. Intelligence on how the authors of the assault intend to carry it out is also important. Often, the new technologies will reduce the time from the moment of the incident until the relevant services get notified. It will ensure a faster response.

NC – When talking about the protection of public spaces, we must also point out that more security actors are involved. It is not only the police, but also private companies that are often iengaged in the protection of venues during major events. What does the cooperation between those services look like?

JP – The more actors involved, the more difficult it becomes to coordinate their actions. Thus, any well-designed system should contain elements that will combine into a smoothly functioning system. However, the question is, who should coordinate such activities?

It is hard to say if these institutions are already functioning at the right level. An event would have to occur to force a specific action and test these actors in a dangerous situation. Of course, we can carry out exercises and various types of tests. However, it is important to remember that there will always be an element of scriptwriting involved, which means that the predictability of specific actions at any given moment is much greater than in real life emergencies.

The differences in professional training can pose a problem. We know that non-public entities or institutions in the private security field provide services at different levels. Some of them pay close attention to ensuring that their employees are well-equipped, trained, and aware of appropriate behaviour. Cooperation will be more effective with them. In turn, there are those whose training for specific situations is less robust, and this can impact the outcome of the security operation.

A photo from the APPRAISE project’s Pilot in Gdańsk.

NC – Coming back to new technologies. What does the cooperation between the LEAs, police, public entities, and the technology providers look like?

JP – It is not a secret that public entities or uniformed services don’t have the financial resources to carry out advanced research into new technologies on their own. Perhaps that is, for various reasons, unnecessary. On the other hand, there are companies that do this daily and profit from their products. Thanks to their income, they have the finances to promote new technologies, implement them accordingly, and continuously research and improve them. In turn, public entities are interested in using these technologies. Such an arrangement seems natural.

Appropriate products and technologies that fit into the characteristics of the work of the uniformed services will be highly requested and used by public security actors. Mainly, they are supposed to support the work of the practitioners in the field. We must remember that in currently designed security systems, humans are still the most crucial element, and all newly developed tools aim to support and improve their work.

Watch the video from the APPRAISE Project’s Pilot in Gdańsk:

NC – We are talking about collaboration between technology providers and LEAs. Both of us are involved in the APPRAISE project. It develops tools to protect public spaces from both physical and cyber threats. A platform that will enable the exchange of information between the police, private security actors, and the crowd will be developed. How will this project and its solutions improve security?

JP – Indeed, this is one of the initiatives, launched by the European Commission, that strongly supports companies to improve their technologies and encourage them to develop existing ones.

From what we have already seen, the tools produced for the APPRAISE project work very well and support the actions of the uniformed services. Among other things, they help to create a security system that will be used for additional protection and monitoring of public areas. Moreover, it supports LEAs in reducing the reaction time to danger signals and selecting precise countermeasures, which are crucial in crises.

NC – I am glad that we could finish our discussion with an optimistic message about new technologies that are improving our safety. Thank you very much for the interview!

I would also like to invite our readers to learn more about the APPRAISE project at the project’s website. The Polish Platform for Homeland Security is also involved in other initiatives in the field of public space security. I encourage you to check out the SAFE-CITIES, PREVENT PCP, and SHIELD4CROWD projects.

Nina Czyzewska

Junior Project Manager