Visitors passing through London’s Heathrow airport on the way to next year’s Olympics can no doubt have confidence in the airport’s security systems. But they might be surprised to learn that, courtesy of a European Commission grant, they will be subsidising their own surveillance, and that they will be watched by an Israeli firm that provides monitoring systems for the West Bank separation barrier.
The Olympics will provide a live test for a “Total Airport Security System” (TASS), backed with an £8 million EU grant from research spending. The project promoters give little detail, but say that different scenarios will be tested at Heathrow, involving “integrating and fusing different types of selected real-time sensors and sub-systems for data collection in a variety of modes”.
The TASS consortium includes Britain’s airport operator BAA, which is obviously in need of an EU hand out, having made a £200 million loss last year. But the lead roles are being taken by firms from Israel, not an EU country at last checking. VERINT Systems (Israel) will coordinate, while surveillance know-how will be provided by Elbit Security Systems. Elbit’s supply of Big Brother cameras to the West Bank wall have led to it being dropped as an investment by some pension funds, and the Commission itself considers the separation barrier illegal where it is built on Palestinian land. It is worth noting that intellectual property created in the course of EU research projects (eg new surveillance systems) remains the property of the firms involved, so in theory EU money could pay for development of systems that will ultimately be planted atop an illegal wall and used to keep an eye on the Palestinians!
Considering that the TASS project will result in a high-tech system that can profitably marketed to airports around the world, it is unclear why the Commission needs to dole out this corporate welfare. Defence giant BAE Systems is also taking part, being clearly unable to fund research and development from its £1 billion 2010 profit. BAE is separately involved in 12 similar EU research projects, funded with another £71 million in taxpayers’ cash.
The TASS project website is here: http://www.tass-project.eu/
A version of this article was published in Private Eye magazine.