National security wrap

The beat

Australian police use facial recognition system

Buzzfeed News obtained a list of clients of facial recognition company Clearview AI that revealed Australian state and federal law enforcement agencies have signed up for its services. The Australian Federal Police and policing agencies in Queensland, Victoria and South Australia have accounts registered with the company and have together run more than 1,000 searches of its databases. Clearview AI was founded by an Australian, Hoan Ton-That, and its technology has been criticised for its intrusion on privacy.

Hong Kong police arrest dozens across the city

Hong Kong police have been accused of being heavy-handed in response to protests in Tai Po against the setting up of a coronavirus clinic there. Man Nim-Chi, an opposition district councillor for Tai Po, says he was pepper-sprayed even though he wasn’t involved in the protest. Separately, police seized homemade bombs they believe may be connected to a campaign to persuade the government to close its borders with China to stop the virus from spreading.

Chinese nationals in France targeted by coronavirus scams

China’s embassy in Paris has complained to French officials that Chinese students wearing medical masks in the city have been asked to hand over 150 euros by criminals pretending to be police. The fake fines were purported to be issued under a law banning garments, such as Islamic veils, covering the face. The Chinese embassy also claims that criminals have posed as health officials to gain entry to homes and rob Chinese nationals.

CT scan

US helping the Taliban fight IS

The head of US Central Command, General Frank McKenzie, has said that the US has provided ‘very limited support’ to the Taliban in its fight against Islamic State in Nangarhar province in eastern Afghanistan. Despite concerns about the credibility of the Taliban’s promises to fulfil its counterterrorism commitments, the general said it’s clear that the group is actively fighting IS.

The terrorism threat inside UK police

Two British police officers have been referred to a government program for people deemed vulnerable to radicalisation and who might carry out acts of terrorism. Details are contained in a report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services that followed the arrest of a 21-year-old frontline UK police officer suspected of being part of a banned right-wing terror group.

US moves to designate white supremacist group a terrorist organisation

The US State Department is seeking to designate the neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen as a foreign terrorist organisation. The group was founded in the US but also has a presence in the UK, Canada, Germany and Estonia. The US doesn’t yet have a domestic terrorism law; however, designating offshoots of the group as a foreign terrorist organisation will make it easier to track and charge suspected members operating in the country.


Travel from Italy restricted over coronavirus

Austria and Slovenia have imposed tight restrictions on their borders with Italy as the country put itself into lockdown over the coronavirus. Austria has halted all flights and trains from its neighbour and has set up roadblocks to stop motorists unless they have a medical certificate. Slovenia has announced it will close its 232-kilometre-long border with Italy. Australia, Denmark and several German states, have also all banned flights from northern Italy.

Kenya and Somalia hold talks on border dispute

Kenya has sent a delegation to Ethiopia for further talks intended to defuse tensions in its cross-border relations with Somalia. The meeting comes a week after heavy fighting broke out between Somali forces and militia allied to a fugitive regional security minister, with some of the conflict spilling into Kenya’s Mandera region. The two countries have been locked in a long-running dispute over their overlapping maritime claims in the Indian Ocean, and unrest caused by the Al-Shabaab extremist group has repeatedly threatened the integrity of Kenya’s border with Somalia.

Cambodia and Laos announce border pact

Cambodia and Laos have met to review their bilateral cooperation in 2019 and sign a cooperation agreement for 2020. The two countries agreed to work together on issues including drug trafficking, human trafficking and illegal border crossings.

First responder

South Korea might have passed outbreak peak

South Korean Health Minister Park Neunghoo says the country might have ‘passed the peak’ of its Covid-19 outbreak after the number of new daily infections decreased over several days. While South Korea has more than 7,500 confirmed cases, the country has the capacity to conduct 15,000 diagnostic tests per day and has tested 196,000 people to date.

First health centre opens in Yemen’s largest displacement camp

The International Organisation for Migration, with the support of the Yemen Humanitarian Fund, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, has opened a health centre in Al Jufainah camp, the largest displacement site in Marib in central Yemen. The centre includes examination rooms, a small laboratory, pharmacy and in-patient beds to support 5,000 displaced families out of a total of around 47,000 across the country.

Linux to host disaster-relief technology

The Linux Foundation will host open source firmware for Project OWL, to provide emergency communications during natural disasters. The project, which was trialled in Puerto Rico, turns simple wireless devices and consumer electronics into a ‘DuckLink network node that connects to nearby phones and links civilians with emergency services. With funding from an IBM initiative worth US$25 million (A$38 million), Project OWL will ‘better prepare communities and mitigate impacts when hurricanes, floods or earthquakes strike’.