National security wrap

The beat

UK court rules in favour of police use of facial recognition

The High Court of England and Wales has dismissed a case brought against the South Wales Police for its use of automated facial recognition technology. It had been argued that Cardiff police were in violation of human rights and data protection laws by using the technology. The court ruled that ‘the current legal regime is adequate to ensure the appropriate and non-arbitrary use of [facial recognition technology]’. It’s the first time a court in the UK has considered this type of technology and its use by police.

South African reservists come up short

Concerns have been raised over an 86% decline in the number of reserve police officers in South Africa in less than 10 years. Responding to a question put before parliament by the Democratic Alliance, South African police commissioner Khehla Sitole revealed that the country’s police reservists have declined from 63,592 to 8,908 since 2010. The party argues that the ‘lack of visible policing has had a significant impact on safety and security’. South Africa’s police-to-citizen ratio is 1:380. The country would need 64,000 more officers to meet the United Nations target of 1:220.

Portuguese police pull plug on dark web network

Portuguese police have worked with Europol to dismantle a European counterfeit currency network worth €1.3 million (A$2.1 million) which was operating on the dark web,. Authorities raided eight properties in Portugal, resulting in the arrest of five suspects and the confiscation of 1,833 counterfeit banknotes of various denominations totalling €69,930 (A$112,089). The suspects have been accused of counterfeiting and organised crime. The dark web’s role in facilitating the trade of counterfeit banknotes was discussed just days earlier at an Interpol conference in Lyon.


US to force social media scrutiny on more travellers

Australians travelling to the US could be forced to hand over social media account details under a Department of Homeland Security plan. While the department has already been collecting social media information from some visa applicants since 2016, it will now also require applicants from almost all visa categories, including Australians who don’t meet the conditions of the country’s visa waiver program, to allow their social media accounts to be scrutinised. Homeland Security says it will only review publicly available information.

Turkey threatens to ‘open the gates’ to Europe for refugees

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said that he may reopen a route for refugees and migrants into Europe if he doesn’t receive enough international support for a resettlement plan in northeast Syria. This comes as the Turkish government claims that it has barely received any of the financial support promised by the EU under a 2016 deal. Erdogan said Turkey is ‘not going to carry this weight alone’ and that it will ‘have to open the gates’ if it doesn’t get the support it wants.

UK eGates ‘unfit for purpose’

The UK Home Office has been accused of mismanaging and wasting taxpayers’ money after travellers complained of being repeatedly rejected at its electronic passport gates. Passengers say their names have been mistakenly linked to criminals with the same or similar names on Home Office databases, which then subjects them to further scrutiny by Border Force officials, delaying their journeys.

CT scan

US jets bomb IS-infested island in Iraq

US F-15 and F-35 aircraft have dropped 36,000 kilograms of bombs on Qanus Island in northern Iraq, a safe haven ‘infested’ with Islamic State militants moving from Syria into Iraq. A spokesman for US-led forces said the airstrikes disrupted the terrorists’ ability to hide in the island’s thick vegetation, allowing ground forces from the 2nd Iraqi Special Operations Forces Battalion to complete further clearance operations.

Trump administration given greater powers to target terrorists

On the eve of the anniversary of the September 11 terror attacks, US President Donald Trump expanded his administration’s counterterrorism capabilities by adding several clauses to an executive order which was initially signed by former president George W. Bush in 2001. The changes allow the state and treasury departments to target suspected leaders of terrorist groups and their affiliates without needing to link them with specific acts. Treasury laid sanctions on more than two dozen individuals and entities from 11 terrorist groups on the first day the new clauses were in effect.

Far-right terror plots are a rising concern in UK

British authorities have thwarted 22 terrorist plots since the deadly attack on Westminster Bridge in March 2017, but Scotland Yard admits attacks are becoming easier for perpetrators to carry out and harder for police to detect. Seven of the foiled attacks were related to right-wing extremism, which is becoming a ‘rising threat’ for authorities.

First responder

Britain sends reinforcements to Bahamas

The Royal Navy dispatched extra medics and a second ship to the Bahamas to help with the recovery from Hurricane Dorian. A team of 18 military medical personnel arrived on Saturday to provide emergency care, surgery and intensive care to those in need. HMS Protector, the navy’s only ice breaker, was deployed on Monday from Bermuda to provide aid and support. The British government also pledged £1.5 million (A$2.7 million) to help deliver aid. Several hundred British nationals live in the worst affected areas of the Bahamas, like the Abaco Islands.

Cause of bushfires ‘irrelevant’ to Australian government response

Bushfires are raging across Queensland and New South Wales at an unusually early point in the fire season, prompting members of the Greens to demand the government declare an ‘environment and climate emergency and to take urgent action consistent with internationally accepted science’. The federal minister for natural disasters and emergency management, David Littleproud, said he doesn’t know ‘if climate change is manmade’ and that whether climate change is caused by people or not is ‘irrelevant’ to the government’s response to the bushfires.

China rolls out emergency pork reserves

An outbreak of African swine flu across 32 Chinese provinces has raised concerns about a pork shortage ahead of a major public holiday season in the country. The Chinese government has responded by releasing thousands of tons of frozen pork from its emergency reserves. A third of China’s pigs have been lost to the flu over the past 12 months, resulting in soaring prices and food insecurity.