Advanced Video Surveillance archives search Engine for security applications

Observing privacy, data protection and ethical issues in advanced video surveillance archives search engines for security applications

07/28/2014 - 14:45
Observing privacy, data protection and ethical issues in advanced video surveillance archives search engines for security applications

 Observing privacy, data protection and ethical issues in advanced video surveillance archives search engines for security applications


ADVISE (“Advanced Video Surveillance archives search Engines for security applications”) is an innovative research project co-funded by the European Union in the Seventh Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development (FP7). The project seeks to provide national and local law enforcement authorities with a supportive tool in the investigation of criminal acts, using existing video surveillance system archives.

The research, as well as the final product of ADVISE (a surveillance tool prototype), raise highly sensitive privacy, data protection and other ethical concerns. The consortium has committed itself to conduct its activities in a way that fully complies with the relevant European standards in these fields. Compliance with these standards occurs on five main levels. The first two were originally foreseen in the project’s description, three were added following further assessment in the project.

First, the ADVISE consortium applies Privacy by Design principles. Second, all activities within the project are subject to the scrutiny of the external Ethics Advisory Board, the project’s internal data protection controller, as well as on-going ethical monitoring by one of the partners. Third, special measures are taken to protect individuals partaking in the research, particularly in the use of raw video material. Fourth – and most importantly – the consortium has developed a tailored methodology for a privacy impact assessment (PIA) and has subsequently conducted a number of PIA processes. Fifth and finally, the consortium seeks feedback – on a continuous basis – on whether the chosen way of addressing the legal and ethical challenges is the correct one.


Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA)

Shortly after the launch of the project, the ADVISE consortium faced the question how to operationalise Privacy by Design principles. Inspiration was found in Ann Cavoukian’s work, who coined the concept back in 1990s. Some two decades later she argued that “[Privacy Impact Assessment] can be an excellent entry point for applying the principles of Privacy by Design” [2]. Put simply, a PIA is a “process for assessing the impacts on privacy of a project, policy, programme, service, product or other initiative and, in consultation with stakeholders, for taking remedial actions as necessary in order to avoid or minimise the negative impacts” [3].

Drawing on the expertise of one of the partners, the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, the widely accepted model of a PIA framework has been tailored to meet the needs and realities of the project. To date, a PIA process has been conducted for the ADVISE prototype as a whole, as well as for three of its logical elements. The public results of these assessment processes are available on the project’s website.



The ADVISE consortium is of the opinion that the PIA processes help mitigate privacy, data protection and ethical risks posed by smart video surveillance. Indeed, the researchers in ADVISE agree on the importance and benefit of PIAs for the project and its overall success. At the same time they acknowledge that PIA processes come at a price (time, money, manpower) and stress the need for a clear guidance on how to conduct PIAs properly.

Overall, the consortium considers its PIA framework and experience an asset, which could constitute a basis for further research, teaching, policy-making, consultancy and a (voluntary) standard. Moreover in the context of the pending reform of the EU data protection framework, in which a data protection impact assessment would be compulsory in certain situations, its importance will only increase.


Future steps

In November 2014 a liaison workshop will be organised, in which ADVISE and similar research projects will share their experiences and recommendations concerning the observance of privacy, data protection and ethical principles. Furthermore, a series of academic and technical papers discussing the experience with PIAs in smart video surveillance is under preparation.


Further information

[1] ADVISE project:

[2] Privacy by Design (PbD):

[3] Privacy Impact Assessment Framework for Data Protection and Privacy Rights (PIAF):

[4] ADVISE Deliverable D2.4 (public):