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Annette Groth: Security Research Beyond Legal Control – Profits Instead Of Human Rights


With benign support from governmental and supragovernmental institutions, a growing market in security goods is developing. Some of the key products belong to the grey area of dual-use items, which can be used interchangeably for military and civil security purposes. One huge problem is the lack of the safeguards which ought to ensure that these innovations are not misused to violate human rights. Worse still, innovation potential is greatest in places where human-rights standards are being deliberately and selectively lowered. This is where arms companies find the perfect development and testing grounds that secure them sales markets in other regions. These problems are graphically illustrated by the example of Euro-Israeli security cooperation. The key to a consistent human-rights policy will be the ability to curb both these testing grounds and the proliferation of the products. If this policy is to be implemented, we shall need an independent institution that scrutinises awards of research funding in Germany and the EU on the basis of human-rights criteria.    


The security society

The atrocities of September 11 led to a rapid boom in global demand for security technology. Such technology serves as a tool for the selection of individuals on the basis of abstract profiling characteristics. Its aim is to recognise every potential risk, even where there is no imminent danger, and isolate all sources of risk. In this way, police powers are being extended far into the realm of prevention. If new forms of technology are available which make new measures possible, state regulation is normally guided by the principle that what is technically possible must be legitimate. Human rights and individual freedoms are inevitably curtailed. By playing on people’s fears, it seems to be an easy matter to win public backing for the Big Brother state. Yet the attempt to find technological solutions to social problems is doomed to fail, because it leads to a vicious circle in which increasingly sophisticated technology gives rise to more and more unexpected risks. The security society thus keeps laying its foundations afresh in the form of “permanent scaremongering and a boundless quest for security”.[1]

Security research sponsored by the EU and the Federal Ministry of Education and Research

The process of optimising existing surveillance technology continues relentlessly, for widespread fear is a lucrative proposition. According to figures from the Federal Ministry of Economics, the market in products of civil security research was worth 20 billion euros in 2008. The Ministry expects this figure to increase even further to 31 billion by 2015.[2] At the same time, billions of euros in tax revenue are being poured into the industry. In the Seventh EU Framework Programme for Research (FP7), security research is defined for the first time as a separate and priority research theme, encapsulated in the European Security Research Programme (ESRP). For the period from 2007 to 2013 inclusive, a dedicated budgetary appropriation of 1.4 billion euros has been allocated to security research. This appropriation is to be steadily increased. The Federal Ministry of Education and Research programme entitled Forschung für zivile Sicherheit (Research for Civil Security) is designed to fit into the agenda of the ESRP and is regarded as the national appendage of the European programme. Since 2007, a total of 250 million euros has been spent on the German programme. On 25 January 2012, the Federal Government took a decision to continue the programme with an increased annual budget of 55 million euros. The national and European security industry has responded by expanding its global activities.


One of the EU research projects is the Indect programme,[3] which came in for public criticism last year because of ethical and legal concerns.[4] In the Indect framework, researchers are working on the development of an ‘automatic population scanner’.[5] Information on a person from various surveillance media such as drones, facial-recognition technology and video cameras is to be merged with personal information from the Internet and from databases so that a comprehensive profile can be created. The integrated profile of a person’s movements and relationships would immediately flag up ‘abnormal behaviour’.[6] In the logic of this system, ‘abnormal behaviour’ is interpreted as an indicator of criminal activity. The fallibility of this profiling is plain to see. There are clear signs that the vicious circle of surveillance mania poses a far greater threat to the foundations of our democratic freedom than even the terrorism it purports to combat.

Fortress Europe

It is not only in the fight against terrorism and crime that security technology comes into play. Europe’s answer to the rising tide of refugees heading for the Western metropolises because of global inequity in the distribution of resources, goods and development opportunities has been to seal itself off. Systematically applying an all-encompassing concept of security, the doctrines of both NATO and the EU present the “uncontrolled movement of large numbers of people”, whether driven by hunger, environmental disaster or war, as a risk. At the neuralgic areas formed by the external borders of the EU, these people are detected with the aid of drones and infra-red cameras by the paramilitary border agency Frontex and deported to ‘safe third countries’ before they have even become subjects of European law by setting foot on European soil.[7]

Security technology: intrinsically neither civil nor military

The assertion of the Federal Government that the security research programmes of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research and of the EU relate “exclusively to civil security”[8] are in glaring contradiction with the planning documentation of the EU and the Ministry. In particular, these documents testify to the fact that the Federal Government believes in the existence of a ‘civil-military continuum’ and considers that there is little scope for demarcation. Most high-tech developments fall into the dual-use category, that is to say they have both civil and military uses. They are used by the police, disaster-control services and private security companies as well as by military forces and intelligence services. The European security research agenda was negotiated behind closed doors by a Group of Personalities (GoP) in 2003, without any involvement on the part of parliaments or civil society. Of the group’s 25 members, eight were representatives of the arms industry. The position paper produced by the Scientific Committee, a body of experts which advises the Federal Ministry of Education and Research on the substantive thrust of the Security Research Programme, states that “The technological know-how acquired through military research must also be available in the realm of civil security research and vice versa. Technologies are not inherently assignable to only one category or the other. […] a clear and permanent separation of military and civil security research is very difficult to apply rigorously”. Both the reality of the situation, namely the increase in the importance of dual-use technology in the context of defence, and the concept of a comprehensive approach to security which the Federal Government has embraced[9] contradict the assertion that security research can be confined to civilian purposes. Tim Robinson, Senior Vice-President of the Thales Group and Managing Director of its Security Division and former ESRAB[10] chairman, put it this way: “Security’ is a more politically acceptable way of describing what was traditionally defence”.[11]

Consequences of misrepresentation

The misleading designation is not without its consequences, for it results in civil budgets being misappropriated for the development of military capabilities. It would not even be legally possible for the EU to fund military research from its budget, since Article 41(2) of the Treaty on European Union prohibits the financing of “expenditure arising from operations having military or defence implications”. In this respect, the designation of the programme as a civil research programme opens up access to the EU budget. The ‘securitisation’ of military research also means that multinational research-cooperation ventures are able to circumvent the relevant legal provisions. Under the Policy Principles of the Government of the Federal Repub­lic of Germany for the Export of War Weapons and Other Military Equipment, which were adopted in 2000, exports are not to be licensed if “such exports would stir up, perpetuate or exacerbate latent tensions and conflicts” or if they could be detrimental to the human-rights situation in the country in question. Where cooperation ventures in the field of security research take place with non-EU countries, no checks are conducted at all at the present time. This emerged from the Federal Government’s answers to a minor interpellation tabled by the parliamentary group of The Left Party. Questioned as to how compliance with the rules governing exports of dual-use items is verified, the Federal Government replied as follows: “Compliance with the relevant national and EU provisions is a matter for recipients of grants”.[12] The term ‘recipients of grants’ refers here to the sponsored research establishments. Does this mean that adherence to the Federal Government’s Policy Principles and the EU Code of Conduct is left to the discretion of the beneficiary undertakings themselves? The principle of ‘unbridled self-regulation’ seems as new to the realm of arms control as it is inappropriate. The obligation to implement the European Regulation on dual-use items lies with the Federal Government. It is not transferable to beneficiary establishments.

Israeli combat experience as an export winner

Regardless of the alarming conflict situation in Israel and the violations of human rights there, Israeli arms companies are also receiving millions of euros in subsidies under this same guise of ‘civil security research’. In the EU Security Research Programme, Israel is a participant in 29 projects, not infrequently as the lead partner. Israel is thus the main non-EU beneficiary of European research support. The Federal Ministry of Education and Research is working on the development of German-Israeli cooperation in the framework of the national Research for Civil Security programme. Apart from Israel, Germany’s only other bilateral relations in the field of security research are maintained with its NATO allies France and the United States. How has Israel come by this special status? In 2011, for the second year in succession, the Israeli economy grew faster than that of any other industrialised nation, recording a growth rate of 4.8%. This upsurge is a consequence of a change of course effected by the Israeli Government back in the year 2000. At that time, when numerous dot-com companies were on the brink of bankruptcy after the speculative bubble had burst, the Government decided to switch the focus of Israel’s enterprise policy from the IT industry to developers and manufacturers of surveillance technology. Only one year later came the great boom, when the September 11 bombings sent demand for surveillance technology rocketing. Over the last few years Israel has managed to become the global market leader in security technology.[13] The Israeli external and internal security industry encompasses the major arms manufacturers such as Elbit, Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), Rafael and Israel Military Industries (IMI) but also companies from the telecommunications industry such as Motorola, Comverse, Nice, Verint, Mer Group and Ness TSG. At the present time there are about 600 security-related businesses with a total of some 25,000 employees. Almost 80% of the high-tech products manufactured in Israel are exported,[14] generating turnover of about 1.45 billion euros.[15] This makes Israel one of the world’s largest arms exporters, outsold only by the United States, Russia, Germany, the United Kingdom and France. Experience in combating terrorism is extolled as the trump card that gives Israeli companies an edge over their competitors. One of the pages on the website of an Israeli Government-sponsored body, headed Gateway to Israel’s Homeland Security Industries,[16] proclaims that “No other country has such a large pool of experienced former security, military and police personnel and no other country has been able to field test its systems and solutions in real-time situations”. “There is a loop”, it says on another page, “in which we develop new systems, try them in the field, get feedback from our clients and make improvements to make the solutions more effective.”[17] The products of the security industry, in other words, are tested on people in the occupied areas. The security industry, moreover, does not profit from the military conflicts of the past 62 years alone. On the contrary, the survival and the ‘competitive advantages’ of the industry are based on the generation and regeneration of these conflicts. There is therefore a great economic incentive to lower human-rights standards further in order to test the latest technological developments.

The technology of repression: the case of Israel

Never in the past have violations of human rights caused Germany or the EU to pull out of multinational cooperation ventures in the field of security research. This can scarcely come as a surprise to anyone, since the Federal Government assesses the relevance of human rights to research cooperation as follows: “There is no risk of human-rights violation”.[18] This view reflects blinkered and indeed cynical opportunism. Security technology, by its very nature, is always in conflict with human rights. This applies to civil as well as military applications. One need look no further than the technologically sophisticated repression and marginalisation of the Palestinians and of the Arab minority in Israel. Some six million Israelis and five million Palestinians live in the territory of Israel and Palestine. Of this population, about 3.5 million Palestinians and one million Jewish settlers live in the West Bank areas that were illegally occupied by Israel in 1967. Although these people live in the same territory, they are subject to different legal systems. The Arab minority in Israel, though in possession of Israeli passports, are treated as second-class citizens. Discrimination against Arab Israelis and their marginalisation are illustrated particularly clearly by the rules governing land ownership, which reserve 93% of the core land area of Israel for use by Jewish citizens.[19] The apartheid regime in the occupied West Bank comprises a dense network of military checkpoints, Jewish settlements here and Palestinian enclaves there, separate roads, the separation wall, unequal access to the existing infrastructure, inequitable distribution of resources, particularly water, and discrimination in land purchase and the issuing of building warrants. The control of people’s movements means daily frustration, humiliation and demoralisation for those affected. Palestinians spend up to a third of their waking hours queuing to be allowed through checkpoints.[20] The technological instruments of this illegal segregation system are supplied in part by companies that receive research-cooperation subsidies from Germany and the EU. One such company is the Israeli arms group Elbit, which is taking part in four projects in the European Security Research Programme (ESRP) and is an applicant for support from the German-Israeli cooperation programme. Between 2007 and 2011, Elbit obtained EU funds amounting to 2.3 million euros. Elbit is developing the Torch command and control system specifically for the separation wall. The surveillance system is regarded as a key functional component of the wall, which the Israeli Government is building around the West Bank. In 2004, the International Court of Justice in The Hague, in its Advisory Opinion on the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, found that Israel’s construction of the wall was contrary to international law. The Court’s opinion included the following passage: “The wall, along the route chosen, and its associated régime gravely infringe a number of rights of Palestinians residing in the territory occupied by Israel, and the infringements resulting from that route cannot be justified by military exigencies or by the requirements of national security or public order. The construction of such a wall accordingly constitutes breaches by Israel of various of its obligations under the applicable international humanitarian law and human rights instruments.[21] Because of the significant contribution made by Elbit to these breaches of international law, the company has been excluded from the investment universe of the state pension funds in Norway and Sweden.[22] The participation of Elbit Systems Ltd in German and EU research programmes ought to be linked to the cessation of illegal company practices.[23] Yet there are no pertinent procedures and, as the Federal Government’s answers have shown, no political will. The Federal Government, when asked about the risk of complicity in extremely serious violations of human rights through its financial support, stated that it held no stake in the Elbit company and hence saw no need to undertake its own assessment of the risk.[24] Israel is one of the leading producer countries for unmanned aircraft, known as drones. In the €70-million Maaximus project, ten German research establishments and businesses are currently cooperating with the arms manufacturer Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) on cost-cutting and time-saving in airframe construction. At the present time, drones are chiefly used for military operations,[25] but there are plans to deploy them increasingly in civil operations. Unarmed drones are used in Gaza and the West Bank for reconnaissance and intelligence-gathering. When armed, their main purpose is to carry out targeted killings. Armed IAI Heron drones were deployed in the Gaza War in 2008/09 and killed at least 29 civilians. The attacks were condemned by Human Rights Watch as serious violations of international humanitarian law.[26] IAI, like the arms group Israeli Military Industries and Soreq Nuclear Research Centre, is one of the applicants for support under the programme launched by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research.[27]

Action needed urgently

Although Israel is in the spotlight here because of its prominence in the security research programmes, the problem is nevertheless a deeper, structural one. Just as cooperation with Israel takes place without a scrutiny procedure, other countries with comparably poor human-rights records could also participate in research programmes in principle. There was cooperation with Egypt too, for example, at the time of the Mubarak regime.   The newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung of 26 January 2012 quoted reassuring words from Annette Schavan, Federal Minister of Education and Research, to the effect that engineers did not have licence to develop whatever was technically possible in the framework of research programmes. Even at the design stage, she said, legal, social and ethical concerns about projects had to be addressed. Observance of international, European and national legal standards must be a sine qua non for the granting of support for research projects. Yet there is still no functioning mechanism for verifying compliance with these standards and for their enforcement. What is needed is an independent institution that reviews the awarding of research funding in Germany and the EU on the basis of the following criteria: a.            Research projects involving German partners must be compatible with the Basic Law and particularly with data-protection legislation. b.            Ethical, social, environmental and international legal standards must be met by participating companies and institutes, and they must protect human rights. A consistent policy of mainstreaming human rights, as adopted in the Federal Government reports on human rights, presupposes that the impact of governmental activity on human rights is systematically assessed and that every political act is measured against the yardstick of human rights. As this applies even to supposedly unrelated areas of public policy, how much more relevant must it be to the development and proliferation of security technology, which invariably impinges on human rights.  c.            Research projects must be compatible with the criteria laid down in the rules governing exports of military technology and dual-use items. To this end, it is essential to call the research programmes what they really are, namely civil-military security research. When the Regulation on dual-use items and the EU Code of Conduct are updated, the area of research and development must be incorporated into their provisions. Germany must press for their incorporation at the current consultations within the EU.

The occupation policy of the Israeli Government and the human-rights violations to which it gives rise must no longer be sponsored through the European research budget and from German tax revenue. Ritual condemnations of the human-rights situation by the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton, and other representatives are not enough. The funding of the military and security sector is virtually an invitation to Israel to continue its inhuman policy. The Euro-Mediterranean Agreement establishing an association with the State of Israel must be suspended pursuant to Article 2 for as long as Israel continues to breach international law by pursuing its policy towards the Palestinians. Article 2 of the Agreement requires the parties to respect human rights and democratic principles.


[1] Tobias Singelnstein and Peter Stolle, Die Sicherheitsgesellschaft. Soziale Kontrolle im 21. Jahrhundert, thrird edition, VS Verlag Wiesbaden, 2012, p. 122

[2] These figures were quoted by Thomas Rachel, Parliamentary State Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, in answer to questions in the Bundestag. See (in German).

[3] Indect stands for ‘Intelligent information system supporting observation, searching and detection for security of citizens in urban environment’.

[4] See, for example, the minor interpellation of The Left Party in Bundestag printed paper 17/3461 (in German) and the Piratenpartei campaign site at

[5] ‘Indect – der Traum der EU vom Polizeistaat’, in Zeit Online at

[6]Within the context of INDECT, behavioural profiling is a key factor, because it allows the detection of characteristics of known criminals or criminal groups, offering the opportunity of creating methods for the automatic detection of threats and recognition of abnormal behaviour or violence.” Indect, Deliverable D4.7, Report on methodology for applying existing machine learning methods for behavioural profiling; online at

[7] On current violations of human rights by Frontex, see the report of 2011 from Human Rights Watch entitled The EU’s Dirty Hands. Frontex Involvement in Ill-Treatment of Migrant Detainees in Greece.

On the deadly consequences of Frontex operations, the German refugee organisation Pro Asyl writes, “Thousands of people have drowned on their way to the Canaries. In order to avoid the armed vessels of the European border agency Frontex, refugees have taken to using smaller and smaller boats, putting their lives at increasing risk. Pro Asyl calls on the EU Member States to halt the unlawful Frontex operations”. Online (in German) at

[8] Minor interpellation tabled by the group of The Left Party on the violation of human-rights standards in cooperation with non-EU states in the field of security research, Bundestag printed paper 17/8434 (in German).

[9] See also the concept of joint research for future security and defence, as defined by the Federal Ministry of Defence.

[10] ESRAB is the European Security Research Advisory Board, the advisory body which, along with the Group of Personalities, drew up the research agenda for the European Security Research Programme.

[11] Ben Hayes (2009), NeoConOpticon, p. 72, online at

[12] Minor interpellation tabled by The Left Party on The Left Party on the violation of human-rights standards in cooperation ventures with non-EU states in the field of security research, Bundestag printed paper 17/8434 (in German).

[13] See Neve Gordon, The Political Economy of Israel’s Homeland Security/Surveillance Industry, 2009.

[15] (in German), accessed on 6 February 2011

[18] Federal Government reply to question 6, Bundestag printed paper 17/8434 (in German).

[21] International Court of Justice, Advisory Opinion: Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, 4 July 2004, at

[22] Recommendation from the Norwegian Council on Ethics regarding Elbit Systems Ltd, at

[23] Not least among the grounds for such linkage is the report by UN Special Rapporteur Professor John Ruggie on business and human rights. The ‘protect, respect and remedy’ conceptual framework presented by Professor Ruggie defines the principle of a state duty to protect and enforce human rights through appropriate policies and regulation.

[24] Federal Government answer to question 28 of the minor interpellation on the violation of human-rights standards in cooperation ventures with non-EU states in the field of security research. 

[25] One particular source of concern is the current research for the development of programs that would enable armed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to decide independently whether to kill people, turning them into so-called autonomous weapon systems. Besides the intrinsic fallibility of these systems, there is also uncertainty as to who bears legal responsibility for a robot’s autonomous decision to kill. See Jürgen Altmann,   ‘Rüstungskontrolle für Roboter’, in Wissenschaft und Frieden, 1/2011, pp. 30-33.

[26] Human Rights Watch, Precisely Wrong. Gaza Civilians killed by Israeli Drone-Launched Missiles, 2009, online at

[27] For a more detailed portrayal of EU research-cooperation ventures with Israeli security undertakings, see David Cronin, Europe’s Alliance with Israel: Aiding the Occupation, Pluto Press, London/New York, 2010, pp. 86-135.

  Translated by Raymond Kerr in cooperation with the Language Service of the German Bundestag Übersetzung durch Raymond Kerr in Zusammenarbeit mit dem Sprachendienst des Deutschen Bundestages"  Excerpts of the above article were published on Electronic Intifada:

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