Sharing best practice on developing ethical tools in the fight against tax crime

Data-driven crime-fighting tools that collect and process potentially personal data may interact with the rights and freedoms of individuals, such as tax fraud victims, perpetrators or others.

When developing sustainable methods and technologies to counter tax crimes, it is essential to adopt a proactive approach addressing ethical, legal, data protection and societal challenges related to their envisioned use.

In January 2020, PROTAX participated in a workshop organised by the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Migration and Home Affairs (DG HOME) which brought together approx. 100 representatives of around 30 on-going projects in the area of Fighting Crime and Terrorism (FCT) research topic, funded either by the ISF-P or the H2020 programme.

The workshop discussions covered legal and ethical aspects of developing and using data-driven policing technologies as well as technical ones. It aimed at creating a forum for brainstorming on common challenges, exchanging best practices, and discussing possible solutions which would lead to joint outcomes and concrete actions.

Several security projects presented their work related to the use of synthetic and real data for research purposes as well as questions related to ethics, law, data protection and societal impacts.

The participants discussed various issues sharing good practices and lessons learned, including such topics as open and publicly available datasets relevant for security research or the legal bases for establishing collaboration and sharing datasets between projects. As a result of these discussions, a number of actions were planned to tackle issues raised by the participants, namely:

  • Maintain an online forum for security/FCT research projects to share experiences and lessons learnt;
  • Maintain a list of open and publicly available datasets relevant for security/FCT research that can safely (i.e. without security, legal or ethics implications) be used by projects;
  • Create a repository of relevant ethical and legal guides, that would be followed by an event dedicated to legal and ethics training.

The participants represented different backgrounds so that they were able to share various perspectives. Law enforcement agencies (LEAs), researchers and experts in data-driven policing, AI and ethical, legal and societal aspects worked side by side, together with members from Europol and Interpol.  Representatives of several European Commission’s units including DG HOME, Research Executive Agency (REA), as well as Directorate-General for Research and Innovation (DG RTD) were directly involved in the workshop.

Ethical approach in developing the PROTAX toolkits

Throughout the lifecycle of PROTAX, from the early co-design stage to the launch of the PROTAX toolkits, partners carry out integrated and interdisciplinary data protection and ethical impact assessments (E+PIA) to ensure the protection of privacy and fundamental rights.

Main components of the PROTAX toolkits:

  • A toolkit for policymakers, which provides recommendations and actions to counter tax crimes at the national and EU level.
  • A toolkit for law enforcement agencies and tax authorities, which consists of a tax fraud investigation framework (TFIF) aimed at promoting new and harmonised methods for investigating tax crimes at national and EU level.
  • A toolkit including a tax crime risk assessment methodology (PRORAM), which is the methodology used by the Consortium to identify areas of gaps and vulnerabilities in the fight against tax crimes in the EU Member States.

The potential ethical, legal and societal considerations have been addressed starting from the co-design and co-development activities, and will continue during the piloting of the toolkits.

For the sustainability of the PROTAX toolkits, it is vital to find synergies with similar national, European and international projects, therefore, we also joined a security projects cluster to act as a platform to discuss and address best practices in this sector including adopting an ethical approach when developing data-driven tools and technologies.

The cluster includes eight H2020-funded projects and aims to share knowledge in order to support law enforcement in their fight against crimes such as money-laundering, cybercrime, organised crime and terrorism among others. The collaboration will also promote the interoperability or compatibility between technical platforms and strive to provide coherent and compatible recommendations to LEAs, policymakers and others.

Please contact us, if you work in the security sector and would like to be updated about future workshops and networking events.


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