National security wrap

Image courtesy of Pixabay user TeroVesalainen.

The Beat

Stingrays deployed by ICE

The Detroit News reports that US Immigration and Customs Enforcement and FBI agents used a controversial anti-terror tool to track an undocumented immigrant. The device, known as a ‘Stingray,’ acts as a simulated mobile phone tower; signals sent to the device from nearby phones allow investigators to track users and intercept their messages and calls. Because the Stingray devices can prove pivotal in sensitive operations, details surrounding their use have typically been closely guarded by police and federal agencies. This operation, which saw the arrest of a 23-year-old restaurant worker, represents the first confirmed usage of such devices by immigration agents, and highlights the tricky balance that law enforcement must strike between effective capability and privacy safeguards.

Although a federal warrant was granted, the affair isn’t sitting well with advocacy groups like the Electronic Freedom Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union, who’ve linked it to the broader crackdown on undocumented immigrants. (Statistics released by ICE this week indicate that such arrests are up by almost 40% compared to last year).

‘Robocop’ roll out

A world-first ‘Robocop’ debuted in Dubai this week. The 170cm robot will be able to recognise faces and emotions, and citizens will be able to pay fines in 6 languages, according to Gulf News. It’s a stunt for now, but one police chief from Dubai suggested that a full 25% of the police force may be robotic by 2030.

CT Scan

Facebook terrorism lawsuits dismissed

A US federal judge dismissed two lawsuits seeking to hold Facebook responsible for supporting terrorist groups who used its social media platform to ‘further their goals’. The US$3 billion lawsuit, brought to court by ‘relatives of American victims of Hamas attacks,’ accuses Facebook of giving the group a platform to ‘air their incendiary views’. The decision by the judge is widely seen as a setback to efforts to hold companies such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube accountable for failing to improve monitoring of  extremist content online.

6 challenges to stopping terrorism

This week’s recommended reading comes from the Director of the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism Gary LaFree. Over at The Conversation, LaFree lists six ‘major challenges’ to creating effective counterterrorism policy. These include the fact that terrorist groups are highly diverse making developing a framework to respond to them increasingly difficult, and that the study of counterterrorism is ‘still in its infancy’. LaFree points out that there’s ‘nothing close’ to a worldwide database that examines CT strategies and their effectiveness. Following the tragic events in Manchester and the security vulnerabilities that almost inevitably surround a public event, LaFree’s observations are particularly sobering.


Freedom of movement in Africa

The African Development Bank has introduced a new travel document—the ‘Laissez-Passer’—which uses digital identity and fingerprint biometrics to facilitate cross-border travel. More than 40 African countries had agreed to adopt the Laissez-Passer before the release of the latest document at the ID4Africa 2017 conference in Namibia. The Economic Community of West African States has been successful in developing and distributing a similar product that enables visa-free movement throughout the 16-country region. Freedom of movement is a key aspect of the Africa Union’s Agenda 2063, which includes goals aimed at removing all intrastate visa requirements by 2018 and creating an African passport.

Are border walls the magic bullet?

As the Trump administration tries to secure the funds to build the US–Mexico border wall, the signature policy seems to have been riding on a global wave of enthusiasm for erecting walls and barriers along international borders. Barriers at the borders of Iran–Pakistan, India–Bangladesh, India–Myanmar and Ukraine–Russia are currently under construction. In the recent Radio National program ‘Great walls or great follies?’, Annabelle Quince and Keri Phillips note that Australia is now the only continent without any such walls, and explores the lessons handed down from famous border walls in history. For an academic (but accessible) take, the Konrad Adenauer Foundation published a study comparing the effectiveness of walls at addressing the root causes of irregular migration in the US–Mexico context.

First Responder

Shake Alert

California has announced a limited roll out of a new earthquake early warning system in 2018. The Shake Alert system uses newly-installed sensors to pick up earthquake activity and send warning messages precious seconds in advance. (Earthquake shock waves travel through rock at the speed of sound, which is slower than speed of light communications systems). Shake Alert will initially be used in some schools and infrastructure systems, but eventually the public will be able to receive phone and computer notifications that warn ‘strong shaking expected at your location’. It could also be used to open elevator doors, shut off gas and open firehouse doors.

Islands at risk

The Small Island Developing States (SIDS) met earlier this week in Cancun, on the eve of the 2017 Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction. High on the agenda is sea level rise and the related risks that threaten 4.2 million people on small Caribbean and Pacific islands. ‘Future disaster losses represent an existential threat to SIDS and undermine development initiatives. For example, Mauritius spends 2% of its GDP (around US$230m) annually on disaster risk mitigation. The aim is for the Global Platform to firm up international disaster risk reduction commitments and address the relationship between instruments such as the Sendai Framework and the Sustainable Development Goals.