Greece’s data protection authority is set to make a decision by the end of the year on the legality of high-tech surveillance and security systems in the country’s refugee camps. The decision will focus on the multimillion-euro Artificial Intelligence Behavioural Analytics system, known as Centaur, and the biometric fingerprint system, Hyperion, both of which are funded by the European Union. The systems were installed in recently constructed refugee camps on the Aegean islands and have been under investigation since March 2022, following complaints from Greek civil society organisations and a researcher. The decision could have far-reaching implications for the use of AI and biometric systems in migration management in Greece and beyond.
Critics of the systems, which include cameras, drones, sensors, and other hardware, have described the new camps as “prison-like” and a “dystopian nightmare”. The European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) has also expressed concerns about the necessity, proportionality, and potential impact on residents’ fundamental rights. Despite these concerns, Greek authorities have defended the systems, arguing that they are necessary to prevent vandalism and protect vulnerable groups.
The controversy over the surveillance systems has highlighted broader issues around accountability and transparency in the EU’s handling of migration and asylum. The European Commission has said it applies all relevant checks and controls but that it is ultimately up to Greece to ensure refugee camps and their systems are in line with European standards. However, critics argue that the EU has been funding these initiatives without proper oversight.
Despite the high-tech surveillance, there have been numerous incidents undermining claims of increased safety in the camps. Lawyers and non-governmental organisations have documented dozens of incidents that suggest the surveillance systems are not preventing harm. The Greek DPA’s decision, therefore, will be closely watched as it could set a precedent for the use of AI and biometric systems in migration management.