Marketed as a multiplatform analytical tool to evaluate speech and facial patterns in order to create visual mapping for authorities and identity suspects, ROXANNE is a new breed of surveillance technology in the process of development and currently being backed by both An Garda Síochána and the PSNI to bring into use.
An acronym for Real time netwOrk, teXt, and speaker ANalytics for combating orgaNized crimE, it was announced in November the Republic’s involvement in the project currently being developed in Switzerland.
A biometrics based platform ostensibly to monitor and crack down on organised crime, an additional application of ROXANNE which its creators advertise freely is the ability to monitor those guilty of alleged hate speech and political extremism.
A product of the EU funded Horizon 2020 to foster new surveillance technology, ROXANNE works across social media sites such as Facebook, YouTube as well as normal telecommunications platforms to identify, categorise, and track faces and voices enabling authorities to paint a more in depth picture of the network being investigated, whether it be in relation to criminal activity or those deemed politically extreme.
Enabling authorities to draw on raw data from a variety of sources and platforms in order to recognise common speech patterns, facial features, and geolocation, the end result is both to identify suspects and paint an intricate picture of the networks being put under the microscope.
Overview of the functionality of ROXANNE to harvest and utilise data from calls, video and social media
Developed at the Swiss Idiap Research Institute, ROXANNE is a transnational collaboration effort between European and Israeli policing agencies as well as some private sector entities. Funded to the tune of €7 million, both An Garda Síochána and the PSNI have contributed €100,000 and €128,000 respectively to the development of the technology expected to come to completion by August 2022.
Irish participation in the project was confirmed by Minister McEntee under questioning in the Oireachtas from Social Democrat TD Catherine Murphy. In a subsequent statement outlining the state’s involvement with the project, An Garda Síochána released the following statement to the Belfast Telegraph.
“It is important (we) partake in EU projects that strengthen and enhance the capabilities and capacity of Ireland’s national police and security service to combat international and transnational serious and organised crime, in addition to combating threats against the security of the state“
Irish involvement on both sides of the border with ROXANNE received disapproval from left wing TD Richard Boyd Barrett, questioning the inclusion of the Israeli Ministry of Public Security due to their record on human rights. One of the ten law enforcement agencies contributing to ROXANNE, the Israeli government is contributing €138,000.
In September of last year, the first field test of ROXANNE was conducted with sample casework being provided by Czech Police pertaining to a narcotics network. A sample of phone numbers relating to an alleged drug syndicate were run through the programme which provided analysis in terms of speech recognition and location with a broader picture being created of the nexus under investigation by compiling hundreds of phone calls. The end result was to provide investigators with a better understanding of the group and to automatically highlight parts of the call transcripts that were of interest to them automatically.
While the field test was trialed solely on phone calls, ROXANNE is advertised as also being able to uncover the creators of so-called ‘hate or propaganda speech’, no matter the platform. It should be noted at this point that while the primary function of ROXANNE appears to be targeting dissident republican and drug cartels, Ireland is soon to roll out more onerous hate speech legislation shortly before ROXANNE will likely be fully operational.
Not the only EU funded Horizon 2020 project to generate controversy, PREVISION and CONNEXION are similar technologies aiming to integrate data from social media, CCTV and facial and voice recognition to assist in investigations.
Governed by a variety of statutes, the surveillance of private individuals is a rather murky world but once which gives authorities a wide berth from which to operate on both jurisdictions of the island.
This is all occurring in the context of enhanced surveillance on right wing groups across Europe, with German authorities likely to rule in favour of allowing security forces to formally put the nation’s primary opposition party the AfD under surveillance for alleged extremism this month.
Domestically officers from the Special Detective Unit (SDU) confirmed in September they had recently commenced monitoring what they described as far right groups, with state forces within the 6 counties garnering a notorious reputation for these surveillance techniques.
Signals intelligence increasingly plays a major role in law enforcement in relation to international crime syndicates, with the Kinahan cartel suffering following the hacking of their private Encrochat communications service. However, considering the scale of surveillance being rolled out, surely this is akin to striking an ant with a handgun.
Whether ROXANNE will be deployed against political targets as well as members of organised crime awaits to be seen. However, as the recent history of this state validates, surveillance can become very politicised very quickly in the confines of our security establishment. Regardless, even the potential for such a tactic to be quickly rolled out is a hint to the extent to which the general stakes of this all are about to be raised.