New project will equip police with advanced technologies to combat disinformation linked to crime

Posted on: 16 November 2022

VIGILANT is a €4 million Horizon Europe project aimed at curbing the spread of disinformation and combating its negative effects such as promoting hate speech, human trafficking, and bogus medical cures.

Researchers from the SFI ADAPT Centre at Trinity College Dublin and University College Dublin are leading a new 36-month, €4 million project that will equip European Police Authorities with advanced technologies from academia to detect and analyse disinformation that leads to criminal activities. 

The VIGILANT project brings together 17 leading European partners from academia, industry, government research centres, and four police authorities in an interdisciplinary consortium to combat this threat to societal cohesion and democracy.

According to Joachim Fassbender of the German Police University, one of VIGILANT's partners:

“Disinformation poses increasing challenges to police forces and society, especially when it is spread in a coordinated campaign. In times of political, economic and social instability, disinformation is able to discredit state institutions, spread hatred and trigger subgroups of the population to pursue their own political, social or economic objectives in an inadmissible or unlawful way. The result is a destabilisation of society and state order. It is therefore important to detect and analyse disinformation at an early stage and to develop appropriate preventative or prosecutive response options.”

Speaking about the project, Owen Conlan, VIGILANT coordinator and PI at the ADAPT Centre, and Professor in Trinity’s School of Computer Science and Statistics, said:

“Multidisciplinary research and continuous collaboration are at the heart of VIGILANT. Through this exciting project we’re striving to employ state of the art, AI-driven content analysis technologies to give police authorities the tools they need to identify and combat disinformation.”

Professor Brendan Spillane, VIGILANT’s coordinator and ADAPT researcher at UCD, added:

“The VIGILANT project will build an integrated platform of advanced disinformation identification and analysis tools and technologies from academia that will be tailored to Police Authorities’ use cases and needs, following an ethical-by-design approach, to help combat this growing threat to society.”                                                                                                                         

VIGILANT will help police authorities detect and analyse disinformation from all major online sources, in all modalities (text, image, video) and in multiple languages. The platform can also help to detect and investigate hate speech, violent nationalist or separatist movements, radicalisation and extremist groups, incels, lone wolves, and other counter terrorism threats.

The VIGILANT consortium gathered in Trinity College Dublin for their launch meeting where they held detailed discussions with the five police authorities on requirements and discussed the project's work packages, key deliverables and technical implementation.

Speaking at the launch, Dr Tom Clonan, Irish Senator, security analyst and retired Irish Army Captain said:

“I am delighted to have co-launched the exciting, timely and challenging VIGILANT project. This exemplary European cooperation is an important step towards preserving freedom of speech and expression while striking the delicate balance with disinformation.”

Over the course of the three-year project VIGILANT will engage with the public across Europe through open discussion events to showcase the work and also gain valuable feedback. Experts from computer science and ethics will ensure that the highest standards of ethics and personal data protections are met throughout the project.

Elisa Orru, Associate professor of Philosophy at Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg, said: 

“VIGILANT develops powerful tools to support police work. The Ethics work package in VIGILANT aims to ensure that this power is exercised within limits and in a manner that maximises benefits to individuals, society, and democracy.”

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