HRW calls on Chile to amend anti-terrorism law and military jurisdiction

Chile should limit the scope of its military justice system and reform the country’s anti-terrorism law so that it can no longer be used to prosecute actions that do not constitute grave crimes of political violence, Human Rights Watch said today.

The legislative branch is currently debating two proposals, one to modify the anti-terrorism law and the other to limit military jurisdiction, presented by President Sebastian Piñera to Congress earlier in September 2010. On September 21, the Chamber of Deputies approved some modifications to the anti-terrorism legislation, which are now being debated in the Senate. The proposals come at a time when at least 32 incarcerated members of the indigenous Mapuche population in Southern Chile are on a hunger strike to protest the application of the anti-terrorism law to their cases, as well as their prosecution by military courts. They began their hunger strike on July 12.

Russia’s ‘Safe City’ and EITKS schemes allow mass surveillance of dissidents

Agentura.ru has an excellent article on how Russia has rolled out e-surveillance systems for the virtual surveillance on the behavior of groups and individuals. The system works through “Safe City” centres, which control CCTV camera’s in Russian cities. Each centre has access to local and federal databases.

The image quality of these cameras not only made it possible to make out the cars’ number plates (Potok Complex) but even to identify people (through a system of facial recognition of individuals among a crowd “face-control). Anything that the camera couldn’t pick up was recorded by the OKO-1 dirigible, which carries out video-obervation from heights of 200-300 meters, thanks to high-tech facial and car-registration plate recognition systems.

Agentura describes how the programme is used not only to ‘cut crime’, but also to counter social activists. It describes how the system was used against activists during the G8 summit in St Petersburg in 2006.

Since 2005 the Russain states has started to integrate all police databases on the federal and regional level
into one system, which could be accessed federally and locally. The
project was due to be completed by 2011 and a lot of work has been done
on it to date. According to the head of the Organisational Methodology
Department in charge of this programme, Lieutenant Berdnik, the
transport network for the communication and transfer of data from 152
sub-departments of the Ministry of the Interior – Federal level, 1,067
subdivisions of the Ministry of the Interior – Constituent Entity level,
910 at the regional centre level, and 1,250 at regional level, was
created between 2005 and 2008. The database links in with the Internal
Forces of the Ministry of the Interior’s communications systems and
gives policemen access to “public and special federal information and
communications systems”.

Thus, the Ministry of the Interior gained
information not only information about criminals, but also about
ordinary members of the public. For example, by 2006 both federal and
regional Automated Dialog Publishing System comprised about 32 million
fingerprint records. After this modernization system had been
implemented – in 2008 – this number was 71 million. Of course there is
no way there could be that many criminals in Russia, but in recent years
nearly everyone who is detained at a protest is photographed and
fingerprinted by the police. The Ministry of the Interior say that in
2009 due to these new technological developments, law enforcement
officials “thanks to special complexes have been able to identify people
through fingerprints in real-time and get yes or no answers, thanks in
part to information in the ADIS system.”

Agentura concludes:

The fundamental idea behind developing these programmes is to create a single information space, where the investigator has instant access to all kinds of information about a person, be it in audio, video, photo, fingerprint, biometric or document form. It is thus possible to build up, rapidly, an interactive dossier on any individual from any part of the country, identifying them using any feature.

It is clear how these newfound capabilities could all be used against social activists, the routes of their marches are covered by CCTV, their leaders are identified thanks to the help of this instant image search through the database, and information is distributed to groups within the Ministry of Interior, for them to act on.

Similarly, those who do make it to the demonstration venue will come immediately under surveillance from plain clothes policemen but also this dirgible-mounted camera directed by a KAMAZ vehicle parked round the corner (that’s how the OKO-1 system works). In addition, participants from out of town, who might head from the protest to their friends’ flats, will be picked up by the local police, who, thanks to this mega-database, will be able to identify their target’s circle of friends in any specific city.

Critics say India’s surveillance hurts goal of drawing business

Prompted by fears of digital-era plotters, Indian officials are demanding that network operators give them the ability to monitor and decrypt digital messages, whenever the Home Ministry deems the eavesdropping to be vital to national security. Critics, though, say India’s campaign to monitor data transmission within its borders will hurt other important national goals: attracting global businesses and becoming a hub for technology innovation.

The most inflammatory part of the effort has been India’s threat to block encrypted BlackBerry services, widely used by corporations, unless phone companies provide access to the data in a readable format. But Indian officials have also said they will seek greater access to encrypted data sent over popular Internet services like Gmail, Skype  and virtual private networks that enable users to bypass traditional telephone links or log in remotely to corporate computer systems.

Critics say such a threat could make foreigners think twice about doing business here. Especially vulnerable could be outsourcing for Western clients, like processing medical records or handling confidential research projects, information that is typically transmitted as encrypted data.

“They will do damage by blocking highly visible systems like BlackBerry or Skype,” said Ajay Shah, a Mumbai-based economist who writes extensively about technology. “This will shift users to less visible and known platforms. Terrorists will make merry doing crypto anyway. A zillion tools for this are freely available.”

C.I.A. Steps Up Drone Attacks on Taliban in Pakistan

The NY Times reports that as part of its covert war in the region, the C.I.A. has launched 20 attacks with armed drone aircraft  thus far in September, the most ever during a single month, and more than twice the number in a typical month. This expanded air campaign comes as top officials are racing to stem the rise of American casualties before the Obama administration’s comprehensive review of its Afghanistan strategy set for December. American and European officials are also evaluating reports of possible terrorist plots in the West from militants based in Pakistan.

Beyond the C.I.A. drone strikes, the war in the region is escalating in other ways. In recent days, American military helicopters have launched three airstrikes into Pakistan that military officials estimate killed more than 50 people suspected of being members of the militant group known as the Haqqani network, which is responsible for a spate of deadly attacks against American troops.

Such air raids by the military remain rare, and officials in Kabul said Monday that the helicopters entered Pakistani airspace on only one of the three raids, and acted in self-defense after militants fired rockets at an allied base just across the border in Afghanistan.Pakistani officials have angrily criticized the helicopter attacks, saying that NATO’s mandate in Afghanistan does not extend across the border in Pakistan.

As evidence of the growing frustration of American officials, Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top American commander in Afghanistan, has recently issued veiled  warnings to top Pakistani commanders that the United States could launch unilateral ground operations in the tribal areas should Pakistan refuse to dismantle the militant networks in North Waziristan, according to American officials.

Special Operations commanders have also been updating plans for cross-border raids, which would require approval from President Obama. For now, officials said, it remains unlikely that the United States would make good on such threats to send American troops over the border, given the potential blowback inside Pakistan, an ally.

But that could change, they said, if Pakistan-based militants were successful in carrying out a terrorist attack on American soil. American and European intelligence officials in recent days have spoken publicly about growing evidence that militants may be planning a large-scale attack in Europe, and have bolstered security at a number of European airports and railway stations.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano plans to discuss the  current European terrorism intelligence with her European counterparts  at a U.N. aviation security meeting this week in Montreal. “We are in  constant contact with our colleagues abroad,” she told a Senate panel  last week. “We are all seeing increased activity by a more diverse set  of groups and a more diverse set of threats. That activity, much of  which is Islamist in nature, is directed at the West generally.”

Cheering for Osama: How Jihadists Use Internet Discussion Forums

This report from the not entirely uncontroversial Quilliam Foundation – which focuses exclusively on Arabic-language websites – should be understood in the context of three important trends in the Arab world: rapidly rising Internet usage, high levels of youth unemployment, and the continuing lack of real political change and sufficient peaceable outlets for legitimate political dissent. These factors together create a situation in which Jihadist websites which offer radical, utopian solutions to complex socio-economic and political challenges can easily appeal to young people who are bored, frustrated and lack basic opportunities to live full and productive lives. The potential consequences of al-Qaeda’s ideology being adopted by large numbers of young people in the Arab world do not need to be spelt out. Unlike other reports on online extremism which have tended to focus on the structural, technical or social aspects of extremist websites, this report has chosen to focus more explicitly on their content; in other words, to direct attention towards the message rather than the medium. This will not only help policy-makers to more effectively understand the dangers posed by extremist websites, and how to better tackle them, but will also allow a more informed approach to challenging extremism more widely.

Harvard Law School guide to media law in the internet age

Excellent overview on US media law, including on the right to know (Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)), libel and privacy and Safe Harbors.

US Senate approves intelligence authorization bill

Key congressional Democrats confirmed Monday that Senate and House Intelligence committee leaders and the White House have agreed on measures that would require the White House to share more information on covert operations with them. According to a draft authorization bill that the House sent the Senate on Friday, Sept. 24, the White House would be required to expand notification of presidential covert action “findings,” or directives, from the so-called “Gang of Eight” to the entire membership of both congressional intelligence committees.

UN warns of rising terrorism in Central Asia, North Africa

Governments in Central Asia and the Sahel-Maghreb region should build up capacity to fight growing al Qaeda-led terrorism, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Monday. Ban said he is committed to working with government leaders in those areas to strengthen their counterterrorism capacity, considering the gravity of the situation there.

“In Central Asia, the UN is already working on capacity-building in the areas of law enforcement, criminal justice and international cooperation,” Ban told a UN Security Council session on counterterrorism, held under the council presidency of Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmed Davutoglu.

Ban said the UN over the lpast five years has expanded its counterterrorism activities, increased interagency coordination and enhanced partnerships with a wide range of international and regional organizations.

Washington has called on governments in the Sahel-Maghreb region to cooperate as al-Qaeda has reportedly expanded its activities there.

Algeria, Burkina Faso, Chad, Libya, Mali, Mauritania and Niger met in the spring in Algiers to collectively confront the threat of terrorism.

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who attended the high-level council meeting, reiterated US support for UN programmes fighting global terrorism, including a UN list provided to governments of names of suspected al-Qaeda terrorists. The list is regularly updated.

“The US is committed to working through multilateral institutions, including the UN, to confront the threat posed by terrorists,” she said, calling for strengthening those institutions.

The council debate was convened by Turkey, which holds the rotating presidency of the 15-nation council in September, to highlight and strengthen UN counterterrorism programmes.

Uganda: Terrorism Charges Used Against Kenyan Rights Defender

Ugandan authorities should either release a Kenyan human rights activist
who is being held on terrorism charges or provide details of the
charges, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said today in a
joint letter to the Ugandan government.Al-Amin Kimathi was arrested, along with Kenyan lawyer Mbugua Mureithi, on September 15 after the two travelled from Kenya to Uganda to observe a hearing of six Kenyans charged with terrorism in connection with the July bomb attacks in Kampala, which killed over 76 people who were watching the World Cup final. Mureithi was released after three days and deported to Kenya. Kimathi, who heads the Muslim Human Rights Forum in Kenya, was held incommunicado for six days before being charged with terrorism and murder on September 21.  

“Al-Amin Kimathi seems to have been arbitrarily arrested for carrying out his legitimate human rights work – providing legal support to the suspects charged in connection with the bomb attack,” said Erwin van der Borght, Amnesty International’s Africa program director.

The charge sheet contains no details or allegations about Kimathi’s conduct that would make him responsible for the crimes described.

MI6 consulted David Miliband on interrogations

David Miliband gave MI6  the green light to proceed with intelligence-gathering operations in countries where there was a possible risk of terrorism suspects being tortured, the Guardian has learned.During the three years Miliband served as foreign secretary, MI6 always consulted him personally before embarking on what a source described as “any particularly difficult” attempts to gain information from a detainee held by a country with a poor human rights record.

While Miliband blocked some operations, he is known to have given permission for others to proceed. Officers from MI5 are understood to have sought similar permission from a series of home secretaries in recent years.