October 2009


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Great article from Wilmer Heck at NRC Hannesblad examining the ADABTS project (Automatic Detection of Abnormal Behaviour and Threats in Crowded Spaces) and some of the concerns set out in the NeoConOpticon report.

In response, defence expert Ko Colijn says the alarming tone of Hayes’ report is “a bit exaggerated”. Colijn points out that the EU does not have the authority to create a “well-oiled Orwellian society” even if it wanted to. It will be up to the individual member states to decide what is implemented. “Many projects will fall by the leeway.”

Which begs the question: “why throw €1.4 billion at them in the first place?”

Der Spiegel and the BBC’s European Press Review also carried the story, while NRC had a two page feature in their news supplement which will be posted here later.

resilience

The EU Civil Protection Forum: “Towards a more resilient society” on 25-26 November will “start a debate on a comprehensive European disaster management strategy to enhance resilience”. Why? Because “Climate change is likely to increase the frequency and impact of disasters, and Europe has to be prepared for this challenge”. How: “Participants come to network, learn about new technologies used in civil protection, hear from international partners, discuss the future of European civil protection and much more”.

“Prepare for the unpredictable” and strengthen your resolve here: “civil protection forum“.

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Leaving little doubt as to the trajectory of EU space policy, this conference on 3-4 December 2009 promises:

Due to their inherent technical capabilities, space systems have gained an important role in European Union as well as its Member States’ investment policies and respond efficiently to needs for security and defence.

Regardless of the aim, be it intelligence acquisition, navigation, or information transmission, space systems today are considered to enhance military operations, and will be indispensable in the future when applied to greater systems, for example, maritime surveillance, transport security and environmental safety.

See conference website and programme (pdf).

More information about the €14.68 million, FP7-funded INDECT project, which aims to mine data from television, internet traffic, cellphone conversations, p2p file sharing and a range of other sources, has been published on Wikinews.  Concern about this project is clearly growing and few will be reassured by the comments of Suresh Manandhar, leader of the University of York researchers involved in INDECT, who told Wikinews: “it is important to bear in mind that the scientific methods are much more general and has wider applications. The project will most likely have lot of commercial potential. The project has an Ethics board to oversee the project activities. As a responsible scientists [sic] it is of utmost importance to us that we conform to ethical guidelines”.

Read the full story: “Listening to you at last: EU plans to tap cell phones

Fed-up with spending on tens of million Euros on costly surveillance R&D projects? Then why not take a leaf out of the CIA’s book and just by the company…

Wired reported last week that In-Q-Tel, the investment arm of the CIA and the wider intelligence community, is putting cash into Visible Technologies, a software firm that specializes in monitoring social media. It’s part of a larger movement within the spy services to get better at using ”open source intelligence” — information that’s publicly available, but often hidden in the flood of TV shows, newspaper articles, blog posts, online videos and radio reports generated every day. Visible crawls over half a million web 2.0 sites a day, scraping more than a million posts and conversations taking place on blogs, online forums, Flickr, YouTube, Twitter and Amazon. (It doesn’t touch closed social networks, like Facebook, at the moment.) Customers get customized, real-time feeds of what’s being said on these sites, based on a series of keywords.

“That’s kind of the basic step — get in and monitor,” says company senior vice president Blake Cahill.

Then Visible “scores” each post, labeling it as positive or negative, mixed or neutral. It examines how influential a conversation or an author is. (”Trying to determine who really matters,” as Cahill puts it.) Finally, Visible gives users a chance to tag posts, forward them to colleagues and allow them to response through a web interface.

Read the full story here: “U.S. Spies Buy Stake in Firm That Monitors Blogs, Tweets

A report published last week by the Institute of Race Relations finds that the government’s Prevent programme for tackling extremism fosters division, mistrust and alienation. The report suggests that the Prevent programme has been used to establish one of the most elaborate systems of surveillance ever seen in Britain.

A report published last week by the Institute of Race Relations finds that “the government’s Prevent programme for tackling extremism fosters division, mistrust and alienation”. The report also suggests that “the Prevent programme has been used to establish one of the most elaborate systems of surveillance ever seen in Britain”. See press release and full text of the IRR report: http://www.irr.org.uk/2009/october/ak000036.html.

The report’s key findings are that:

  • Prevent-funded voluntary sector organisations and workers in local authorities are becoming increasingly wary of the expectations on them to provide the police with information on young Muslims and their religious and political opinions.
  • The atmosphere promoted by Prevent is one in which to make radical criticisms of the government is to risk losing funding and facing isolation as an ‘extremist’, while those organisations which support the government are rewarded.
  • Local authorities have been pressured to accept Prevent funding in direct proportion to the numbers of Muslims in their area – in effect, constructing the Muslim population as a ‘suspect community’.
  • Prevent decision-making lacks transparency and local accountability.
  • Prevent has undermined progressive elements within the earlier community cohesion agenda and absorbed from it those parts which are most problematic.
  • The current emphasis of Prevent on depoliticising young people and restricting radical dissent is actually counter-productive because it strengthens the hands of those who say democracy is pointless.

Author of the report, Arun Kundnani, says that: ‘The stated aim of the government’s counter-terrorist strategy is to enable people to ‘go about their lives freely and with confidence’. The question we pose in this report is whether freedom and confidence for the majority can be enabled by imposing a lack of freedom and confidence on a minority – in this case, the Muslim population of Britain”.

The same question may be levelled at the EU, which adopted its own “radicalisation and recruitment” programme in 2005 in the wake of the Madrid and bombings. In its Communication on ‘terrorist recruitment’ (COM (2005) 313), the Commission suggested that the EU could address ‘incitement’ to terrorism in the media, on the internet, in schools (where ‘youngsters’ often ‘fall prey to violently radical ideas’) and in local communities (by promoting European ‘values’ through ‘inter-cultural dialogue’).

The implementation of these proposals should be subject to the same kind of radical interrogation as IRR’s treatment of the Prevent programme.

The “Pacific Solution” is the Australian government policy of preventing the arrival and entry of refugees by outsourcing the responsibility for refugee protection to neighbouring islands and states in the South Pacific. The Australian government uses aid and trade deals as a ‘carrot’ to solicit the cooperation of third states and provides technical assistance in areas like border control, detention and asylum procedures as part of the deal.

As Statewatch reported, the UK and then the EU set about this policy with regard to its African neighbours in 2003, following the visit to Britain of the then Australian immigration minister (see also detailed analysis). One only needs to look at the fusion of EU missions to Libya and the fruits of deals with Gaddafi they have encouraged to see how far this approach has developed.

If it’s wrong for Australia, as Professor James Hathaway of Melbourne University explains on the following Sky News piece, then surely it’s wrong for the EU?

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