WhatsApp to Libya: How Frontex uses a trick to circumvent international law

The EU is not allowed to return refugees to countries where they face persecution. In 2017, the Commission therefore set up a backdoor for refoulement to North Africa. Published text messages now reveal how Frontex is providing aerial reconnaissance for the Libyan coast guard.

Four years ago, Frontex began setting up its aerial surveillance over the central Mediterranean. Under a new regulation from 2016, the European Border Agency is allowed to buy or lease its own equipment. With the change, the EU wanted to respond to the increasing number of people seeking protection at its external borders. Frontex has since invested hundreds of millions of Euros in charter flights with small planes from European companies that monitor the central Mediterranean and the so-called Balkan route with cameras and radar equipment.

For the now increasingly powerful agency, this flight service is of central importance, which is also reflected in the annual expenditure. This year alone, Frontex is spending a third of the budget earmarked for operations on aerial reconnaissance. Meanwhile, Frontex has supplemented its chartered aircraft with a drone with much greater endurance. „WhatsApp to Libya: How Frontex uses a trick to circumvent international law“ weiterlesen

New camps in Greece: Panopticon for refugees

A „hotspot“ for asylum seekers is opening on Samos, which inmates describe as „Guantanamo“. The EU Commission finds such facilities dignified, and therefore finances them completely. The pilot project will be monitored with motion detectors, behavioural recognition and drones.

Two weeks ago, the Greek government opened the first of six new camps for refugees on the island of Samos. The new „Closed Controlled Access Centre“ is located about eight kilometres from the nearest small town in the middle of nowhere. It consists of hundreds of containers with air-conditioning, recreational rooms, a food bank, sports facilities and a playground, which, like all the other installations, are behind a double fence secured with NATO razor wire. Up to 3,000 people can be fenced in there, currently it started with 600.

The camp is divided by colour into regions and languages; green housing units are reserved for Arabic speakers, blue for Afghans and red for people of African origin. A purple area marks the COVID-19 quarantine station, and there is also a deportation prison on the premises. Announcements can be made to all inmates via a loudspeaker system. „New camps in Greece: Panopticon for refugees“ weiterlesen

Travel authorisations: Carriers must query new EU database

A new information system is supposed to screen travellers for risks at the EU’s external borders. Of interest is, among other things, whether there is an irregular migration history or an „epidemic risk“. The agencies Europol and Frontex will receive new tasks for this.

After some delay, the new European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) will go live at the end of next year. All visa free travellers entering the Schengen area for a short stay will have to register online via a form a few days before crossing the border. The information is checked automatically, after which the system issues either clearance or a contestable refusal of entry. The procedure costs 7 euros, a travel authorisation is valid for three years.

Carriers who operate journeys across an external EU border face new obligations and costs with the ETIAS Regulation. This concerns providers of air, sea, train or bus travel. Before boarding, they must check whether their passengers have a valid travel authorisation. For this, the companies will be given permission to check the passengers‘ papers in ETIAS when they make a booking. Yesterday, the European Union asked companies to register for this process. The first tests of the system are to begin in February 2022. „Travel authorisations: Carriers must query new EU database“ weiterlesen

Action plan on Afghanistan: Europol to hire evacuated staff from Kabul

A high-ranking EU advisor has drawn up recommendations for the Council and the Commission on how to deal with evacuees and refugees from Afghanistan. The focus is on more cooperation with secret services and NATO.

The European Union’s anti-terrorism coordinator proposes 22 measures for dealing with Afghan refugees. An action plan, published by the British organisation Statewatch, addresses the four areas of security controls, strategic intelligence, countering propaganda as well as terrorist financing.

The recommendations by the Belgian Gilles de Kerchove are based on a declaration by the EU interior ministers on 31 August. There, flight and migration from Afghanistan are seen primarily as a security problem. „Action plan on Afghanistan: Europol to hire evacuated staff from Kabul“ weiterlesen

Billions for Europe’s biometrics giants

All travellers will soon have to submit fingerprints and facial images at the EU’s external borders. For this, large sums of money await companies offering such technologies in each member state. In an „Interoperability Package“, the European Union is spending more money on the systems.

It is estimated that the global market for biometric systems will grow from 28 billion in 2019 to 56 billion Euros in 2024. A large part of this relates to border control technology, including stationary and mobile scanners, sensors, databases, servers and infrastructure for networks. In Europe, this market is dominated by groups such as Idemia, Atos, Sopra Steria (all from France) as well as Accenture (Ireland) and Hewlett Packard (USA). This is how Danish researchers have reconstructed it in a study financed by the EU Commission.

The European Union is paying almost one billion Euros for the expansion of its large migration databases. Some of these information systems are decades old. Some of them have already been renewed, but now they are getting new functions again. In future, the fingerprints and facial images contained in them will be with a „Shared Biometric Matching Service“. „Billions for Europe’s biometrics giants“ weiterlesen

Germany: Further step towards the introduction of „Cell Broadcast“

So far, German authorities can only notify mobile phones of an impending disaster if their owners have registered beforehand. Soon it will be possible to warn all phones within a certain radius. It is questionable who will decide whether to send such a message.

The German government is another step closer to introducing the „Cell Broadcast“ warning system. Yesterday, the Federal Cabinet agreed on a „formulation aid“ to amend the Telecommunications Act (TKG). If it is passed by the Bundestag, all mobile phones that are logged into a certain mobile phone cell can be warned of an impending event with a text message. The system is not tied to specific phone numbers, but the reception of „cell broadcast“ messages must be activated manually on some mobile phones.

The standard of „Cell Broadcast“ is defined by the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP), in which worldwide standardisation bodies have joined forces. Accordingly, the service, which was initially only available in GSM networks, can now also be used with LTE and 5G. „Cell Broadcast“ messages can only comprise a maximum of 93 characters. The latest specification extends this to 1,395 characters by sending a total of 15 continuous messages of 93 characters. In addition, the mobile phone emits an alarm tone and vibrates even if it is muted. „Germany: Further step towards the introduction of „Cell Broadcast““ weiterlesen

New regulation: Europol becomes quasi-secret service

The EU police agency processes billions of personalised „big data“, much of it from governmental hacks or intelligence sources. The new Europol vice-director, who was trained in the French military, plays a special role. Now it’s up to the EU Parliament to decide.

The day before yesterday, the EU interior ministers agreed on a mandate for negotiations on the amendment of the Europol Regulation. The final draft has already been published by the British civil rights organisation Statewatch. This means that negotiations on the planned law with the EU Parliament can begin. The proposal is controversial, as Europol would be allowed to process data from private entities on a large scale, even if they include innocent people or contact persons of suspects.

Six months ago, the Commission had presented the draft for the new Europol Regulation. According to the proposal, Europol should have an additional 178 million euros and 160 new posts by 2027. Because the police agency would then also be allowed to use the Schengen Information System (SIS II), a proposed amendment of the SIS Regulation is also being discussed. With the new legal and financial powers, Europol would be on its way to becoming a „European FBI“, as some German interior politicians have demanded in recent months. „New regulation: Europol becomes quasi-secret service“ weiterlesen

„Battlefield information“: EU police to cooperate more closely with secret services and military

Authorities in the European Union use biometric data and crime scene evidence from Iraq and Syria to process war crimes, secretly track suspects and control migration. Now the procedure is to be extended to African countries.

After a meeting of EU interior and defence ministers in 2017, authorities in member states have been using so-called „battlefield information“ to fight terrorism. In this way, the authorities want to identify and detect „foreign fighters“ when they cross an external EU border. The procedure is to be expanded, the EU anti-terrorism coordinator Gilles de Kerchove is therefore calling on governments to engage in a „regular dialogue with their military forces and relevant intelligence and security services“. This is according to two documents posted online by the British civil liberties organisation Statewatch.

„Battlefield information“ comes from countries such as Syria or Iraq, where the „Global Coalition against Daesh“ has been operating militarily since 2014. The intelligence is usually collected there by military secret services. Their dissemination and use goes back to „Operation Gallant Phoenix“, an initiative of the US government. It has a secretariat in Jordan and involves military and intelligence services from 27 Western and Arab states as well as their police authorities. „„Battlefield information“: EU police to cooperate more closely with secret services and military“ weiterlesen

Artificial Intelligence: EU Presidency against blanket ban on real-time facial recognition

While the EU Commission wants to regulate AI applications for police and justice, the current Council Presidency is in favour of as few restrictions as possible. The processing of facial images from public spaces is becoming a bone of contention.

The Portuguese EU Presidency is questioning a blanket ban on artificial intelligence (AI) for facial recognition in public spaces. The Commission had presented such a proposal on 21 April, but also named a number of exceptions and associated obligations.

In a discussion paper distributed to the member states, this approach is now criticised by the Council. Instead, it is according to the Presidency „essential to ensure that we are not not unnecessarily limiting the development and use of technological development“. The police and judicial use of AI must be „be practical, useful and improve the efficiency with which law enforcement authorities work“. „Artificial Intelligence: EU Presidency against blanket ban on real-time facial recognition“ weiterlesen

Greece: EU Commission upgrades border surveillance – and criticises it at the same time

The Greek border police are using a sound cannon and drones on a new border fence, and the EU Commission expresses its „concern“ about this. However, it is itself funding several similar research projects, including a semi-autonomous drone with stealth features for „effective surveillance of borders and migration flows“

On Monday, the Associated Press (AP) news agency had reported that police in Greece plan to deploy a long-range sound cannon at the external border with Turkey in the future. The device, mounted on a police tank, makes a deafening noise with the volume of a jet engine. It is part of a system of steel walls that is being installed and tested along with drones on the 200-kilometre border with Turkey for migration defence. The vehicle, made by the Canadian manufacturer Streit, comes from a series of seized „Typhoons“ that were to be illegally exported to Libya via Dubai.

After the AP report about the sound cannons went viral, Commission spokesman Adalbert Jahnz had clarified that it was not an EU project. „Greece: EU Commission upgrades border surveillance – and criticises it at the same time“ weiterlesen