Janine Louloudi - “Never stop searching"

Exposing the Invisible talks to journalist Janine Louloudi about data investigations into complex topics such as the use of artificial intelligence to track refugees and to monitor behaviours, as well as about what drives an investigator to never stop searching for clues. This interview was conducted in June 2022.

About the Interviewee

Janine Louloudi is a journalist and producer with strong experience in the field of documentary and news-production, as well as online journalism. Over the past year she has worked as editor-in-chief of “Special Report”, a highly-rated investigative current affairs TV programme (Antenna) in Greece. She has also worked as a freelance producer with various production companies, most recently as line-producer for documentaries for National Geographic (Green Olive) and ARTE (Anemon), as well as field producer for international news outlets (Channel 4 News, BBC Radio). In the past she has held the position of editor for FortuneGreece, editor-in-chief and production coordinator of the current affairs programme “Horizon” (Mega TV), and the awarded documentary programme, “War Zone” (Mega TV), and assistant producer at “Reportage Without Frontiers” (ERT),conductingfilming assignments around the world. In 2018 she participated at Columbia Journalism School’s intensive “Summer Investigative Reporting Course” on a fellowship from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation. She holds a Bachelor and MA degree from the University of Athens, Greece.

Interview Transcript

Exposing the Invisible in conversation with Janine Louloudi from the Mediterranean Institute for Investigative Reporting (MIIR).

(Note: the transcript includes minor edits for clarity reasons.)

  • Exposing the Invisible (ETI): What is your favourite part of the investigative process?

Janine Louloudi (JL):

So my favourite investigative process is actually the moment where you discover something that clicks and you think: ‘hmm, I was kind of sure it was gonna find this, I just wasn't sure it was going to happen.’ And yes, it did. And okay, based on this, we can start moving on. And there's always a moment like that, I think, when you work with investigations. But you have to read a lot, or you have to talk a lot with people, you have to be patient.

Info Slide: “Janine and MIIR have investigated how European Union law enforcement authorities have been using artificial intelligence (AI) and other technologies to collect personal data, to monitor and trace nationals and migrants across Europe.”

  • ETI: What are the “Digital Walls of Europe”?


Okay. So with MIIR or our team, we took on investigating what is happening with mobility control, and the use of data, personal data. So data belong to citizens data belong to third nationals, data belong to migrants or refugees seeking asylum – what's being done with that, across Europe? The ‘digital walls’ are, let's say, the European system – security systems. So big security platforms have been set up as huge data bases where authorities across Europe, whether they're border guards, FRONTEXT, EUROPOL, policemen, anyone who comes into contact with anyone travelling across or within Europe are able to collect data to record them to put them in a database, which is then, in one way or another, there to be used for future reference. For example, someone who is travelling and needs a visa to come to Europe, will have to apply for it. All his information goes into one specific let's say digital wall. If someone is an asylum seeker, his fingerprints are put into a system and wherever he ends up in Europe later on, it only takes one fingerprint for the authorities to know that he was in Greece or in Spain or in Italy first.

  • ETI: Can you give an example of the human consequences of this type of data collection?


An example of, of the consequences of this data collection is someone we met and interviewed for a report we made. We met a Turkish, we actually didn't meet him, we spoke with him online, because now he's left Greece. But he's a Turkish citizen of Kurdish origin. He had applied from the consulate in Istanbul in 2016, for a visa to come to Greece because he was afraid for his life at the time. That visa was rejected, because Greece doesn't want to show that it takes in opponents of the Turkish president. Four years later, he decided he had no choice. He tried to come into Greece legally, and was caught by by Greek police, who then checked his information and so they arrested him. He was taken to court where he was charged with illegally reentering the country.

What you want to ask is: “why was he reentering the country when he was never in the country previously?” – Well what has happened is that the consulate had stamped his visa as rejected, and they had put a ban on him to go to Greece for seven years. He was never aware of that. Greek authorities saw it and as a result, he faced four years in prison and actually ended up spending one whole year in a Greek prison. For you know, like, data that was wrongfully put into the database or data that he had never been made aware of. But it was his personal data.

  • ETI: What have you discovered about how AI technology is being used in refugee camps in Greece?


What we've seen is that there's a lot of interest by Defence companies to create new security projects for eu-LISA, and for Frontex (the European Border and Coast Guard Agency). And what we found interesting is that there is more and more inclusion of companies that are experts in the field of artificial intelligence. And then speaking ourselves with people who are monitoring this whole market of surveillance and security of mobility, we saw that pilot projects have already started in some European countries like Greece for example, at the camp in Samos – the new camp for migrants refugees. There, they have started a new programme based on AI, where the inhabitants of the camp, so migrants themselves, have been monitored with cameras. So through the day, these cameras have the ability to profile them, let's say in a sense, their algorithms put in the security mechanisms that can take their temperature they can follow their movement and based on the facial expressions or the way that they themselves on their own or in groups are moving along, they can sort of predict whether or not they're going to engage in some kind of illegal behaviour. We don't know what illegal behaviour consists of. But clearly there are some... this is a sort of an experiment that has started and is going on. And, you know, it is something. Yeah, it's something that I think we'll see in more and more camps in the future, the use of AI.

  • ETI: What advice would you give to new investigators?


Never stop searching, which is a mindset. Try and focus perhaps on techniques that allow you to look into data. Obviously, we hear a lot about data journalism, and I do believe that it's gonna grow bigger and bigger, as we collect more and more information on everything online. I think when you start off as a journalist, you're usually more excited, enthusiastic and kind of impatient. I think with the years of working you get more patient and a bit more confident, or at least you stop trying to control everything, and try to give things more time. I think that's what I do, maybe it's a luxury because I don't do like daily news, where time is of essence. But I think in investigative reporting or documentaries or you know in-depth journalism, you do need to set a different pace and also always try and talk to as many people as possible, and have as many sources as possible. It can never hurt, and it's usually the best way to confirm a story.

Credits and Licensing

CC BY-SA 4.0

This content is produced by Tactical Tech's Exposing the Invisible project, and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International license.

  • Speaker: Jane Louloudi

  • Video production: Laurence Ivil

  • Editorial support and coordination: Wael Eskandar, Lieke Ploeger, Laura Ranca

  • Animation and graphic design: Yiorgos Bagakis, Paulina Rams, Jack Wolf

  • Music: “Chill Abstract (Intention)" by Coma Media

This video series is part of the Collaborative and Investigative Journalism Initiative (CIJI) project co-funded by the European Commission under the Pilot Project: "Supporting investigative journalism and media freedom in the EU" (DG CONNECT), September 2021 - August 2022

The content reflects the speaker’s views and the Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.

First published on October 5, 2022