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Maritime Domain Awareness



  • to examine the legal consequences that the use of earth observation systems (satellites, drones) may have under international law, including human rights law; 

  • to explore the extent to which satellite evidence is or may be used in the future for law enforcement purposes, including before international and national courts;

  • to assess the consistency of the increased information-sharing among multiple stakeholders with the current data protection legislation and human rights law.

Description of work

A principal concern and a key action of the new EUMSS, underscored also by President Juncker in his 2018 State of the Union Address, is to promote a coherent regime for maritime surveillance across the EU by fostering better complementarity of information exchange between the EU agencies and between Member States (MS) authorities themselves. At the core of this endeavour rests the European Border Surveillance System (EUROSUR), a multipurpose system for cooperation and exchange of information among all MS and EBCGA, which is crucial for swift and exhaustive situational awareness of incidents and migration flows and provides shared risk analysis as well as a response mechanism at local, regional, national or EU level. 

In this vein, a key development appears to be the use of new technologies, including satellite technology and other earth observation systems, with a view to consolidating maritime domain awareness. FRONTEX has already been employing unmanned air vehicle to monitor vast maritime areas off the coast of Libya for counter-smuggling of migrants purposes. Moreover, using state of the art satellite technology, the EU and MS are able to identify vessels in distress at sea and thus save lives; oil spills from tankers (satellites are already used in the context of EU CleanSeaNet project service, offering a near real time satellite based oil spill monitoring and polluter identification service); or illegal fishing activities. Also, satellite imageries may provide valuable evidence for the prosecution of illegal activities before international and domestic courts. 

On the other hand, however, such uses of novel technologies as well as the exchange of sensitive information among law enforcement, military and civil authorities may pose significant challenges to human rights law, including the right to privacy, and the relevant EU legislation, including legislation on data protection. A pertinent question which also comes to the fore is to what extent the current regulatory and judiciary framework allows for the use of satellite evidence before internationals and national courts. These questions will be addressed in the context of the present research.

The work will involve ground-breaking research of both technology and law; interviews with the relevant stakeholders; workshop with the involvement of law practitioners and data protection experts and the Advisory Committee; production of two research papers (peer-reviewed articles): one on the use of earth observation tools and its legal consequences and another on issues concerning right to privacy and data protection.

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