Projects / Current Projects

Harnessing open source information for transparency building

Project Period: 8/2014-12/2016
Funding: German Foreign Office
Project officers: Gunnar Jeremias, Mirko Himmel

Transparency is one of the main sources of confidence building and therefore a prerequisite for a functional BWC. The lack of an official mechanism to monitor compliance relevant activities in the BWC requires alternatives for information gathering. While open source information is widely used by states, international organisations and civil society actors in other arms control regimes, meanwhile this approach remains underdeveloped in the BWC regime. The open source project aims to develop such capacities for monitoring compliance with articles I, III, IV, and X. Globally, it is the only project at a public academic institution that examines the possible use of open source information in the strengthening of the BWC.

The failed verification protocol was widely based on the idea of on-site inspections, while other monitoring methods were rarely considered - at least there was no re-investigation of possible methods since the mid-1990s. The digital revolution, however, makes a wide spectrum of information publicly available, including trade-data (see our online trade monitoring tool), satellite images, online information about research and use of biotechnology in the academic and private sectors, scientific publications, real-time tools for the observation of epidemiological data, social media, and others. In addition to the development of filters for these big-data sources, the project also aims to envision the development of scientific measurement methods for the off-site identification of fermentation processes.

With the developed methodology, qualified questions can be raised where ambiguities remain after the analysis of complex open source information. These public technical means (PTMs) might frequently use the same or similar technology as national technical means, but are applied in a public context. Hence, the application of PTMs helps build public transparency in preventive biological arms control. Assuming that valid information will be recognised in a treaty regime regardless of its origin, public transparency on the base of open source data contributes to regime governance.