ZDNet reports that the UK Border Agency is planning a network of booths to take foreigners’ fingerprints and photos. The Home Office agency has advertised for a single contractor to provide booths that are secure and private where overseas nationals can register for biometric residence permits by having fingerprints and a photo taken.

The successful bidder will also be expected to provide services to the public, as well as scanning and sending documents and dealing with payments from applicants. Equipment to video record each applicant, back office IT systems to collate and transmit enrolment data, and document scanning will be delivered under the deal.

A tender notice in the Official Journal of the European Union says the contract will be available to other government departments and agencies, including the Home Office and the Identity and Passport Service.

The USA’s Secure Border Initiative, a complex network of high-tech surveillance equipment to police the entire northern border (with Canada) and southern border (with Mexico), has been cancelled.

While agents in the field were said to “love the gear”, Janet Napolitano (US Homeland Security Secretary) testified before Congress that the project “has been plagued with troubles from day one… It has never met a deadline, it hasn’t met its operational capacities, and it doesn’t give us what we need to have”.

Instead of fulfilling lucrative contracts with Boeing and Raytheon, the USA will instead procure surveillance systems, UAVs, thermal imaging and other equipment from the commercial market.

Defence Industry Daily has published a detailed dossier describing all the goings on.

Article by Andrew Rettman for EUOBSERVER, reprinted in full below. See also “A shameful investment in a dystopia“.

Greece to build wall on EU-Turkey border

The Greek government plans to build a wall along its 206-km-long land border with Turkey to help keep out unwanted migrants on the model of the US border with Mexico.

Greek junior minister for citizen protection, Christos Papoutsis, a former EU commissioner for energy, made the announcement in an interview with the Athens News Agency on Friday (31 December), saying: “Co-operation with other EU states is going well. Now we plan to construct a fence to deal with illegal migration.”

“The Greek society has reached its limits in taking in illegal immigrants … We are absolutely determined on this issue. Additionally, we want to provide a decisive blow against the migrant smuggling rings that trade in people and their hopes for a better life,” he added.

Mr Papoutsis compared the planned construction to the 1,050-km-long fence running through sections of Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas on the Mexico-US border.

Built at a cost of €1.8 billion over the past five years and backed-up by cameras, radar surveillance, jeep-mounted patrols and predator drones, the 4.5-metre-high metal wall initially raised howls of protest on humanitarian and environmental grounds, but has since gained widespread public support in the US.

The EU and Turkey have not reacted to the Greek plan, even though it has the potential to cause upset.

The Union frequently voices complaints against Israel’s anti-Palestinian wall, while slow progress in EU-Turkey accession talks and historic Greek-Turkish tensions could see the new barrier become a symbol of EU antipathy toward its southern neighbour.

For its part, the European Commission in mid-December said it will extend until March its Rabit (Rapid Intervention Border Teams) mission and spend €9.8 million over the next six months on easing conditions in Greek migrant detention camps and on sending asylum and migration consultants to Athens.

The Rabit mission consists of 175 armed guards sent from 25 EU member states under the command of the Union’s Warsaw-based Frontex border control agency.

Greece is the main entry-point into the EU for irregular migrants from Africa and Asia. Noting the impact of the Rabit intervention, Brussels said that 7,586 people were intercepted on the Greek border in October prior to its deployment, compared to 4,270 in November after it was put in place.

EU home affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom in a statement on 15 December called on Athens to improve conditions in its detention centres, which were described as “inhuman” and “degrading” by the UN and by Amnesty International late last year.

“The Greek authorities are benefiting from European solidarity through a package of financial and practical assistance and I urge them to put all necessary measures in place to assist the persons in need,” she said.

The original text of this article is available here.

Article by Ben Hayes for the Economist’s “European Voice” newspaper, published 2 December 2010.

The robot armies at our borders

The EU is entering a new, and disturbing, phase in its efforts to police its borders.

In a hi-tech upgrade to ‘Fortress Europe’, the EU is developing drone planes, satellite surveillance systems, unmanned ground and marine vehicles, even combat robots, to be deployed to ‘defend’ Europe from migrants.

The policy is the result of a convergence in the EU’s ‘industrial competitiveness’ strategy, which has identified the global ‘homeland security’ market as one in which Europe should prosper, and an EU approach to migration control that places the prevention of refugees and undocumented migrants from crossing borders above any other objective, principle or approach.

In this upgrade, the defence sector, the surveillance industry and quasi-autonomous EU bodies such as Frontex and the European Defence Agency are joining forces.

More than €50 million in EU funds from the security research component of the Commission’s seventh framework programme for research (FP7) has already been allocated to the adaption of military surveillance techniques to Europe’s borders – and the programme is still in its infancy. Defence giants such as BAE Systems, Finmeccanica, Thales, EADS, Dassault Aviation, Sagem and Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) feature in numerous consortia. At least six EU-funded projects envisage the use of ‘drones’ (or unmanned aerial vehicles, UAVs) for border control; others promise an array of surveillance and detection technologies.

They have names such as Seabilla, Sectronic and Talos, and ‘24/7 blue and green border situation awareness’ is their objective. Talos – a €20 million partnership between PIAP (a Polish producer of combat robots), IAI (the state-owned manufacturer of Israeli drones) and others – is field-testing “a mobile, modular, scalable, autonomous and adaptive system for protecting European borders” that will “take measures to stop the illegal action almost autonomously with supervision of border guard officers” – combat robots (or ‘Robocops’ perhaps?) in plainer terms.

It would be comforting to dismiss this research as a meeting of science fiction and science fancy, but the US has already deployed an equivalent – Predator drones – along its border with Mexico, part of an $850m (€624m) investment that also includes a ‘virtual fence’.

The determination to create a similar virtual fence in Europe is very real. The European Council has endorsed the European Commission’s Eurosur proposals for a hi-tech European border surveillance system and Frontex is now investing in fixed surveillance and border-drone technology (expressions of interest are currently being invited for UAV demonstration projects).

The European Defence Agency is also involved, by funding manufacturers to develop collision-avoidance systems and other measures needed to ensure the drone programme does not fall foul of rules on the use of drones in civilian airspace. At least seven member states are exploring how they might use drones for civilian security purposes.
There has been little comment so far about these plans in general or, specifically, about Europe’s intended deployment of drones, a technology now synonymous with ‘targeted assassinations’. The UN, though, has spoken forthrightly about the US’s drone programme: Phillip Alston, the UN’s special rapporteur on extra-judicial killings, has accused it of giving the CIA a “licence to kill” and encouraging a “Playstation mentality” that devalues human life.

The hi-tech vision of the EU’s military researchers might be a less discomforting prospect if there were some assurance that the drones and other systems would simply be used to detect and rescue those on the overloaded and ramshackle boats and rafts in which so many perish.

But a sense of comfort is impossible, amid reports – for example – of European naval patrols “deliberately overturning” boats carrying migrants and of EU-sponsored Libyan patrols opening fire on Italian fishermen.

The EU’s interventions may already be making the sea more dangerous; drones and other robotic tools will add to the risks of a Playstation mentality developing along Europe’s borders.

The EU stands on the cusp of a shameful investment in a dystopia.

Ben Hayes is a project director for the civil liberties group Statewatch.

You can view the original article on www.europeanvoice.com.

Europe’s leading drone manufacturers have joined forces in yet another EU-funded R&D project on the development of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or ‘drones’. The OPARUS project brings together Sagem, BAE Systems, Finmeccanica, Thales, EADS, Dassault Aviation, ISDEFE, Israel Aircraft Industries and others to “elaborate an open architecture for the operation of unmanned air-to-ground wide area land and sea border surveillance platforms in Europe”. The consortium has received €11.8 million in EU funding.

Meanwhile IPS reports that FRONTEX has invited expressions of interest in a tender to demonstrate “Small UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) and Fixed systems for Land border surveillance”.

Another article, by Dave Cronin, reports that the European Defence Agency (EDA) has now launched the SIGAT project (Study on the Insertion of UAS in the General Air Traffic), featuring EADS, Sagem, BAE and Dassault (see also previous post on the EDA’s drone programme).

Finally, Cronin’s article also notes that Sagem has entered into a “joint venture” with Elbit, the Israeli company which manufactured some of the most lethal weaponry ever used in Gaza.



The FP7 programme is supposed to be about implementing the ‘Lisbon strategy’ and making the EU the “most dynamic competitive knowledge-based economy in the world”. According to the Commission: “The ‘knowledge triangle’ – research, education and innovation – is a core factor in European efforts to meet the ambitious Lisbon goals. Numerous programmes, initiatives and support measures are carried out at EU level in support of knowledge”.

This includes the European Security Research Programme, which has just awarded Selex (a Finmeccanica company) a €10 million ‘research’ contract to develop an EU sea border surveillance system (the total project cost is €15.5 million, the EC contribution is €9.8 million).

The “SEABILLA” consortium, which includes a host of arms companies and defence contractors (BAE Systems, EADS, Thales, Sagem, Eurocopter, Telespazio, Alenia, TNO and others) promises to:

1) define the architecture for cost-effective European Sea Border Surveillance systems, integrating space, land, sea and air assets, including legacy systems;

2) apply advanced technological solutions to increase performances of surveillance functions;

3) develop and demonstrate significant improvements in detection, tracking, identification and automated behaviour analysis of all vessels, including hard to detect vessels, in open waters as well as close to coast.

According to the project synopsis, these surveillance systems will be used for:

a) fighting drug trafficking in the English Channel;

b) addressing illegal immigration in the South Mediterranean;

c) struggling [sic] illicit activities in open-sea in the Atlantic waters from Canary Islands to the Azores; in coherence with the EU Integrated Maritime Policy, EUROSUR and Integrated Border Management, and in compliance with Member States sovereign prerogatives.

In 2009, Finmeccanica revenues were somewhere in the region of €18 billion, of which 12% (approx €2.16 billion) was reinvested into Research and Development. Finmeccanica’s annual R&D budget is thus more than 10 times the annual budget of the entire European Security Research Programme.

Finmeccanica has already established itself as a global, market-leading provider of Homeland Security and maritime surveillance systems, as demonstrated by recent contracts with Libya and Panama (among others), each worth hundreds of millions of Euros.

This begs the obvious question of whether EU R&D subsidies for the likes of Finmeccanica are really warranted, and whether this kind of contract is strictly in accordance with FP7′s ‘knowledge triangle’ of research, education and innovation.

In reality the SEABILLA project has very little to do with innovation and everything to do with procurement. The EU is already committed to developing the kind of high-tech surveillance systems that only the defence sector can deliver [on maritime surveillance, see pages 36-40 of the NeoConOpticon report] but it lacks the mandate, budget and office to procure the requisite expertise, software and hardware.

Of course, were the EU to attempt to fulfil its ambitions by establishing a European Department of Homeland Security, there would be fierce resistance among the member states, not to mention civil society groups and a reluctant public.

What we have instead is an unaccountable EU procurement strategy – masquerading as research – committing hundreds of millions of taxpayer Euros in ‘seed money’ to security apparatuses that pre-empt both the political and legal authority needed to put them into practice.

It’s certainly innovative, but is it the kind of innovation that the architects of the FP7 programme had in mind?

Starting in September, the entire 2,000-mile US-Mexico border will be monitored by drones, the Christian Science Monitor has reported.

The EU is headed the same way. Subject to drone manufacturers and operators getting clearance from European air traffic controllers, the EU’s borders could be buzzing with UAVs within a few years. Not that any of this is being debated by, for example, the European parliament.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 70 other followers