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The impact of the EU Innovation Hub on the security

Working in the EU Security Research arena is an exciting challenge. It is a complex environment that includes various actors with a broad range of skills and experience. Therefore, structures like the EU Innovation Hub and communities like the ENLETS Network are great vehicles to connect experts and multidisciplinary actors to work towards a common goal – a safer EU. 

Having attended the recent Annual Innovation Hub meeting in Brussels – from the position of a project partner in various EU-funded actions – we explore several key points raised during the meeting. PPHS attended to represent the EU-HYBNET and CYCLOPES projects – both networks of practitioners that are open for relevant stakeholders to join. 

The event addressed many pertinent topics and matters hugely important for implementing innovation and driving capacity building in the security research domain. The event started by exploring the importance of fundamental rights and how imperative it is to consider this dimension when developing tools. However, the point was also made that we must remain pragmatic and practical to deal with each development in its own right. 

For example, comparing a tool that can help a LEA find a red car quicker in search of thousands of vehicles in hours of video footage cannot be viewed in the same light as a biometric scanning solution that collects personal data from citizens (a point made by a LEA in the audience). We need to consider all aspects – especially the data management and overall governance. 

PPHS agrees with the practical direction of the discussions and is happy to hear that many EU-based experts are addressing these matters through dedicated projects such as AP4AI. Paraphrasing Thierry Hartmann – Co-chair of the EU Innovation Hub – by taking an integrated approach and opening dialogue at the beginning of an initiative, we can account for various needs and deal with each case independently. However, it was not disputed we should have a baseline for fundamental rights; this is happening in the efforts of the EU with the new AI legislation. 

Creating Technology Solutions 

To produce useful and practical innovations that can be used by LEAs across Europe, there are myriad of items to consider. Baseline research – software quality, security, feasibility, functionality, etc. all need to be covered. Viewing things from Prototype Vs Product helps to assess the needs. So does viewing the cultural aspects of a project, such as language barriers and cultural diversity – points made by – Juan Arraiza, EACTDA during the second Panel Discussion: 

Digital Investigation Tools: From Research to Use
Panel opening: Mailis Pukonen, Head of Operations CEPOL
Panellists:

  • Juan Arraiza, EACTDA
  • Anna Illamaa, ECTEG
  • Dafni Stampouli, Europol Innovation Lab
  • Laurent Beslay, JRC

Moderator: Michele Socco, DG HOME

Points also made during that session covered the importance of failure in the research cycle and the criticality of not limiting the boundaries of innovation. Regardless of the work, it is vital to ensure that teams have the skills and diversity of experience to allow a successful implementation. Having an agreed list of expectations and critical success factors is vital. We can then take steps to put forward a plan that accounts for these. 

Laurent Beslay from JRC highlighted how researchers need to get closer to operations – allowing them to understand and address the relevant challenges. We should continue to move people from research backgrounds into agency roles. Mailis Pukonen Head of Operations from CEPOL, stressed that we need to catch up with the ‘innovation train’ and not forget to provide adequate training. 

Training is vital to empower the plan’s implementation and the uptake of results. Teams should strive to share results and disseminate the project’s outputs. To this end, the projects and supporting initiatives must advertise courses. Publicity is key. The focus should also be on competence vs tool skills – for example, a tool agnostic approach for digital forensic training. 

Also within this session, the group talked about failure and staying relevant to the most pressing issues. With failure, Juan Arraiza, stressed that failure is not an issue, but learning from failure is vital.  Europol Innovation Lab’s Dr. Dafni Stampouli emphasised that ensuring all relevant partners have access to results and relevant outputs and actions is necessary to support improvement plans. 

Key Takeaways from Panel Discussions

Acceleration of innovation. We need to move forward with purpose. See how far we go and build on our successes. To that end, we can embrace pilots and try to test elements in operational environments. Relevance and time to market – speed of development and the need to put suitable solutions in the hands of practitioners is hugely important. 

Similarly, we can’t ignore the fast-paced environment and must speed up. We need to take action and learn as we go. Two years have passed since the formation of the Innovation Hub – and a lot has been achieved. Still, we should continue and proceed with vigour and energy. Practical projects are a priority, and we must use the data we have and share it securely and safely. 

Conclusion: 

To achieve the ambitions of the Innovation Hub and the supporting community, all parties must be investing in people – stretching and utilising their knowledge and experiences. 

It is a strength of the EU that we hold Fundamental Rights in high regard, but we cannot let this debate stand in the way of our development. Michael O’Flaherty, FRA Director, put it perfectly that “improving AI and innovative technologies and protecting fundamental rights is not a zero-sum game.” We must remember that and build it into upcoming frameworks and improvement plans. 

More needs to happen to increase the speed to market and to help drive innovation and its uptake. Therefore, we need to collaborate and communicate – consistently. Agility, flexibility and synergies are essential. Imagine a project that finishes with a tool or an output with promising possibilities for uptake. Rather than starting from scratch, it would be good to have funds to facilitate pilots and foster adoption. PPHS raised this point during the meeting, and the suggestion was recorded for future consideration. 

It is a pleasure for PPHS to participate and contribute to such meetings and discussions, and we look forward to continued cooperation in the coming months. 

Steven Ormston

Communication & Community Manager 
Polish Platform for Homeland Security

The thoughts and comments are the author’s and are not an official position of PPHS. Similarly, there are points raised that came from discussions during the meeting, and it is not possible to verify all input from individuals and are stated in good faith.

(Photos: Europol)