National security wrap

The beat

Facial recognition challenged in UK court

The first test case against the use of facial recognition technology by police in Britain has been launched by Cardiff resident Ed Bridges. He’s arguing that the use of this technology, as distinct from traditional CCTV, breaches data-protection and equality laws. Welsh police say its use is proportionate and if an individual isn’t on a watchlist, no data is retained. The hearing is expected to take three days.

Anti-groping app takes off in Japan

Statistics from Tokyo police show that women in Japan are downloading the anti-groping app ‘Digi Police’ in ‘unusually high’ numbers for a government app, with more than 237,000 downloads over three years. The app plays a loud tone or flashes a ‘help’ message on a phone’s screen to signal that the user is distressed. This novel approach to modern policing has helped combat a persistent problem on public transport.

Police prepare for pistachio pillaging

Police in Sicily have started preparing for this year’s pistachio harvest. Each year, the harvesting of the local nut—the Bronte green pistachio—attracts thieves seeking to cash in on the lucrative crop, which sells for double the price of other pistachios around the world. In 2009, 300 kilograms were stolen and the local mayor asked police to ramp up patrols. This year, the national police, or Carabinieri, have readied a helicopter for the task.


US and UK face defeat over Indian Ocean base

The US and UK have suffered a major defeat in the United Nations. The UN General Assembly overwhelmingly voted in favour of a resolution calling on Britain to give up control of the Chagos Islands. Known as the British Indian Ocean Territory, the islands house the major US military installation on Diego Garcia, where bombers are based for long-range missions. The UN vote follows an advisory opinion issued by the International Court of Justice that the UK should cede control of the islands to Mauritius.

Malaysia–Singapore rail link put on hold

Malaysia and Singapore have agreed to halt construction of a cross-border rail link, as Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad places major infrastructure projects under review. The Johor Bahru–Singapore Rapid Transit System had an estimated price tag of US$1 billion (A$1.452 billion) and was planned for completion in 2024. The new link was meant to alleviate traffic congestion at the border, which currently handles 300,000 crossings a day. Singapore–Malaysia ties have been strained by disputes over water supply to Singapore and the use of airspace in southern Johor.

Cyprus drills down on Turkey

The Republic of Cyprus will expand its search for gas after Turkey announced plans to drill in waters off the divided island’s coast. Cyprus’s energy minister, George Lakkotrypis, said drilling in eight locations was scheduled over the next two years. Turkey has said that the Turkish Cypriot minority deserves to benefit from the island’s natural resources and has announced plans to conduct its own drilling off the island. Last year, Turkey dispatched gunboats to prevent drilling commissioned by the Cypriot government, which Ankara does not recognise.

CT scan

Arrests made over Wi-Fi bomb plan in Indonesia

Dozens of people suspected of planning to launch terrorist attacks when the official results of Indonesia’s presidential election were released have been arrested. One terrorist cell was allegedly developing the capability to detonate a bomb using Wi-Fi, a tactic not successfully used in Southeast Asia but previously used in the Middle East. Due to Indonesia’s history of terrorism, authorities have jammed phone signals at mass gatherings in the past to prevent the use of remotely activated bombs. A spokesman for the national police said jamming Wi-Fi signals was more difficult. The election results were released in the middle of the night and a day earlier than planned. Some have speculated this was to avoid protests and the possibility of terrorist attacks exploiting the chaos. Post-election violence has resulted in the deaths of six people so far and skirmishes are ongoing.

Sri Lankan bureaucrat suspected of role in Easter attacks

Sri Lankan authorities have arrested a bureaucrat allegedly involved in the Easter terrorist attacks in Colombo. The man is suspected of ‘aiding and abetting’ one of the suicide bombers. Sri Lankan authorities are cracking down on people with suspected links to National Thawheed Jamaath, the group believed to be behind the attacks. Last week a school principal and teacher were also arrested over their alleged links to the group.

First responder

Map may help curb the spread of HIV in Africa

Researchers from the University of Washington have published a study which may provide a significant boost for health officials trying to curb the spread of HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa. The study includes a new map which will allow researchers to assess the prevalence of HIV among individuals aged between 15 and 49 at a much finer scale than was previously possible.

Thailand on red alert for African swine fever

Thai authorities are on red alert as part of efforts to prevent African swine flu from reaching the country. The disease broke out in four Chinese provinces in August last year. It has since spread to more than 20 countries and territories including Mongolia, Cambodia and Vietnam, where more than 1.5 million pigs have been culled. This strand of swine flu is not deadly to humans, but the disease is expected to continue to spread, threatening food security in Asia.

Environmental emergency declared in Mexico City

Forest fires and a lack of wind contributed to an unprecedented level of smoke haze in Mexico City, forcing officials to declare an environmental emergency, close schools and warn people to stay indoors. Measurements showed that the level of particulates in the city’s air was more than six times the recommended limit. Mexico City was known for its polluted air in the 1990s, though air quality has improved since then. There are fears, though, that air pollution may be getting worse in the city of 21 million.