Horizon Europe – The next EU research programme to succeed Horizon 2020 will form part of the European Commission’s wider proposal for the EU’s 2021-2027 budget, known as the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF). Both the Multiannual Financial Framework and Horizon Europe Programme proposals clearly aim to put European research even more centrally in the political spotlight. For example, the title alone of the Commission’s MFF proposal, “Budget for a Union that Protects, Empowers and Defends”, is an indication that security concerns are a political priority.
The importance that the draft MFF places on EU-funded research can be seen in its proposed allocation of €97.6 billion for Horizon Europe, making it the EU’s biggest ever research and innovation funding programme. By contrast, the current Horizon 2020 programme has a budget of €77 billion.
Within the new MFF proposal it is foreseen that funding for security will increase by 40% compared to the 2014-2020 budget. For Horizon Europe’s sub-budget known as Cluster 2: “Inclusive and Secure Society”, the Commission proposes a budget of €2.8 billion in which security research plays a prominent role. Beyond financial issues, Horizon Europe aims to be more ambitious in terms of delivering results to society, for which the Security Research Event (SRE) 2018 is paving the way forward.
A Europe that protects: countering terrorist content online
The continued presence of terrorist content on the web remains a key challenge for fighting terrorism and radicalisation, with both posing grave risks to citizens and society at large. Practitioners and end-users need access to products and services that effectively help prevent online terrorism-related activities, as these can spread very quickly across platforms. For example, 33% of links to terrorist content spread within one hour whilst 75% of links to terrorist content spread in four hours. Security Research and Innovation is a strategic enabler that supports the development of technologies and tools to speedily identify terrorist content online and prevent its re-upload.
The Commission’s proposal (for a Regulation on preventing the dissemination of terrorist content online, unveiled in September 2018) to get terrorist content taken swiftly off the web combines clear and targeted rules. These help guarantee the smooth functioning of the Digital Single Market, whilst increasing security, enhancing trust online and strengthening safeguards for freedom of expression and information. National authorities across the Member States will be able to issue removal orders that oblige hosting services to remove terrorist content online within one hour. The services will also be required in cooperation with national authorities to better protect their services and users from terrorist abuse by taking measures to block the re-uploading of terrorist content once this has been removed. Under the Commission’s proposal, service providers and Member States will have to designate contact points, reachable 24/7, to facilitate the follow up to removal orders and referrals. In addition, when automated detection tools are involved, human oversight and verification will be used to prevent erroneous removals.
During SRE 2018 participants will see the most recent research achievements that support this critical capability. EU-funded projects such as DANTE and TENSOR address the automated on-line content detection challenge and will be showcased in the conference’s dedicated exhibition area.
1. DANTE (“Detecting and ANalysing TErrorist-related online contents and financing activities”)
Concluding its work in February 2019, DANTE is compiling a set of tools, techniques, processes and algorithms to help law-enforcement authorities identify and monitor terrorist-related activity online. It focuses on terrorist-related fund raising, propaganda (including recruitment, incitement, radicalisation and disinformation) and training activities. DANTE’s tool kit is based on existing technologies but enhanced with innovative functionalities. Its solutions comprise a system for gathering and assessing multimedia and multilingual content from their multiple possible sources: the surface web (sites accessible to anyone), the deep web (content not indexed by standard search engines) or the dark web (networks requiring specific software, configurations or authorisation). DANTE aims to identify, monitor individuals and online communities, link pseudonyms with real people and, finally, capture and store data for further analysis. These results should significantly reduce the time and money needed for terrorism-related investigations, thereby boosting security levels. DANTE also takes full account of legal, ethical and privacy issues to improve public perception of the security measures required to combat online terrorist activities.
2. TENSOR (“Retrieval and Analysis of Heterogeneous Online Content for Terrorist Activity Recognition”)
Set to conclude its research in August 2019, the TENSOR project is developing a powerful IT-based terrorism intelligence platform to detect online, organised terrorist activities. Much of this activity takes place on the so-called “dark web”, the encrypted network of servers that connects users to websites anonymously, making it difficult for law enforcement agencies (LEAs) to trace dark web users’ identity and activity. This is all the more a challenge for LEAs across Europe regarding terrorist-generated content on the internet. TENSOR’s platform uses intelligent dialogue-enabled bots to penetrate and trawl the internet. These extract information from multimedia such as video, images and audio, as well as from multilingual content. Any content of interest is then categorised, filtered and analysed in real time, with relevant information summarised and delivered to the relevant authorities. Importantly, the platform adheres to privacy-by-design and data protection principles. TENSOR’s platform is the result of a broad collaboration among industry, LEAs, legal experts and research institutions which will help ensure that the final system meets actual end-user requirements. For its industrial participants, TENSOR has already provided new insights into how LEAs operate and what their market needs are. This will support Europe’s industrial competitiveness in the growing and important field of countering online terrorist activity.
News from Austrian Presidency
The EU’s preparations for Horizon Europe point to the emergence of two separate and potent research programmes for security in the comprehensive sense, the (currently so-called) Cluster 2: “Inclusive and Secure Society” and the so-called “research window” of the planned fully-fledged European Defence Fund. Austria’s research policy is adapting to these new developments.
As a consequence, the security related research landscape in Austria has gained another member and the Austrian security research programme KIRAS a sibling. The Austrian Ministry for Transport, Innovation and Technology (BMVIT) as the main public provider of applied research funding in Austria has teamed up with the Federal Ministry of Defence (BMLV) to launch the first genuine Austrian defence research programme. Going by the name of “FORTE” – an amalgam of the German terms for research (“FORschung”) and technology (“TEchnologie”) – the defence programme will be funded and implemented under the ownership of the BMVIT, with the Defence Ministry functioning as the main content provider for and practitioner in the annual national calls for proposals. Its main objectives are to boost military knowledge and prepare Austrian representatives from research, industry and the practitioner side for the upcoming European Defence Fund, which will be part of Horizon Europe. On the strategic level, KIRAS and FORTE will form the “safety pin” – a framework for bundling at federal level all the funding activities for security related research under one budgetary and organisational umbrella. The joint budget for 2018/19 will be €14 million: €9 million for KIRAS and €5 million for FORTE – a 100% increase to KIRAS’s preceding average annual budgets. Moreover, Vienna intends to maintain that level of funding as the annual minimum for the coming years.
KIRAS and FORTE calls in 2018 have been launched in parallel to maximise synergies and avoid unintended double-funding risks regarding dual-use research. The latter research was already possible in KIRAS, so the new 2018/19 budget has been raised to include all security research topics addressed by civil and military practitioners alike. FORTE will address those research efforts required only by BMLV.
A vivid example of successful Austrian dual-use research is the AIRWATCH/3F-MS/ARGUS project family whose technology will be on display at the SRE exhibition (for details and more KIRAS-projects see:
ARGUS’s outcome was a multi-layer system for supporting time-critical management tasks during a crisis/disaster scenario (e.g. floods or forest fire). It offers early detection of prioritised threats in disaster situations, as well as fire or flood spread modelling and situation monitoring (water level, fire-watch, etc.). The system generates a common operational picture for civilian and military practitioners in near real-time to optimise joint operational command and decision-making processes. ARGUS was successfully used by the Austrian army for the first time during the Danube floods of 2013 and has been revaluated since then during various live forest fires and flood exercises.
Initial domestic expressions of interest in the first FORTE-call suggest that many of the roughly 500 Austrian actors from research and industry, who have signed up to the KIRAS security research map (https://www.kiras.at/en/security-research-map/), already show the same enthusiasm to participate in both programmes as Austria does in regard to the further developments of security and defence research in the next MFF.