Launched in 1999 and updated regularly, Statewatch News includes our own reporting and writing as well as articles, announcements, documents and analyses from elsewhere on civil liberties, EU policies and state practices. You can receive updates in your inbox by signing up to our mailing list, or use an RSS feed to get instant alerts.

21 December 2020

EU: Advisory group for security research: Report on "AI and security opportunities and risks"

The Protection and Security Advisory Group (PASAG) advises the European Commission on the content of the EU security research programme, which provides funds for research and development on new surveillance and security technologies. PASAG recently published a report entitled 'AI and security opportunities and risks: Towards a trustworthy AI based on European values', which argues that artificial intelligence (AI) "can have extensive application in public security and cyber security, if sufficiently large data sets are available," but calls for more training, research and education to make AI "secure, reliable, unbiased and explainable."

18 December 2020

Mediterranean: Nine new legal proceedings against civil search and rescue ships since June 2020

Over 1,000 people have died in the Mediterranean in 2020 and EU member states are still halting civilian search and rescue initiatives. An overview produced by the EU's Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) documents nine new legal proceedings against civil search and rescue ships seeking to operate in the Mediterranean since June 2020, making a total of 50 proceedings since the beginning of 2018. The proceedings launched since June are all administrative in nature, but some of the 50 invoke criminal law against the crews of rescue ships, the organisations operating them or the vessels themselves.

18 December 2020

Sale of surveillance technology to oppressive governments in MENA region should be halted, say NGOs

Surveillance technologies used against human rights activists in the countries of the Middle East, North Africa and the Arabian Gulf should be halted, NGOs said at a recent online event organised by the Gulf Centre for Human Rights. Software sold by companies such as FinFisher (based in Germany) and Hacking Team (based in Italy) has been used by states to monitor, track and undermine the work of people in a variety of countries in the region.

17 December 2020

EU: Pushbacks: “it is high time to break the silence of EU institutions”

Writing for the European Policy Centre, Green MEP Tineke Strik denounces the fact that “pushbacks at our external borders have become a widespread practice, often accompanied by violence... Their systematic character reveals that they are not only a matter of practice but also of policies in many EU border countries.” She calls for a wider scope of the newly proposed monitoring mechanism, stricter enforcement of the rules, and stronger scrutiny from the European Parliament and Commission.

16 December 2020

UK: MI6 kept quiet about 'criminality' of agent with ‘licence to kill’

The UK's foreign intelligence agency, MI6 (officially known as the Secret Intelligence Service, SIS) was running an overseas agent authorised to engage in serious criminality who had "probably" crossed some of the "red lines" set out by MI6 with regard to criminal activities. However, the agency failed to make this clear to the foreign secretary - who is responsible for authorising such operations - until it was pointed out by the Investigatory Powers Commissioner, an oversight body tasked with monitoring the surveillance and spying powers of the UK's policing and intelligence agencies.

16 December 2020

Biosecurity research and development by the military and for health security purposes: a literature review

An extensive overview published by the Graduate Centre Geneva's Global Health Centre reviews the available evidence on biosecurity research and development (R&D), defined as "the development of medical products and strategies to address biological threats to security." The review finds that the literature generally refers to efforts to address chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) agents and emerging infectious diseases, and that while such research has historically been the preserve of military actors, in particular the US military - concerned with "force protection" and national security - a broader array of institutions has become active in the field in recent years.

15 December 2020

EU: More scrutiny of visa applicants in the works as Council and Parliament reach agreement on new rules

The Council of the EU and the European Parliament have reached a provisional agreement on new rules for the Visa Information System (VIS), which contains information on all applicants for short-stay Schengen visas. Under the new rules, the system will be extended to include certain data on long-stay visas, more data will be held on short-stay visa applicants (including by lowering the fingerprinting age from 12 to 6 years of age) and the system will be made 'interoperable' with other EU databases. New checks will be performed on visa applicants by cross-referencing their data with those databases, and the system will also make use of a profiling tool to assess the potential 'risk' posed by visa applicants. "Technical" discussions are ongoing to finalise the text.

15 December 2020

Greece: Refugees in 'Moria 2' camp face appalling conditions

Refugees on the Greek island of Lesvos living in the 'Moria 2' camp - set up to replace Moria when it burnt down in September - are living amongst mud and water, with inadequate access to hygiene and in the presence of old military equipment, such as mortar shells. The camp was hastily constructed on a former military firing range after the destruction of Moria. Photos and videos shared by residents and activist groups have documented the situation. The Dunya Collective, who recently shared a photo of a mortar shell, said: "Over 7,000 people are living in this camp, many of them children, in inhumane conditions.”

15 December 2020

UK: Intelligence agencies now vetting coronavirus personal protective equipment suppliers

With a number of shipments of personal protective equipment (PPE) for health workers having turned out to defective or inadequate, the UK's intelligence agencies are now vetting companies bidding for the contracts, according to a report in The Telegraph. The paper cites evidence given to parliament's Public Account Committee by Alex Chisholm, permanent secretary at the Cabinet Office, who said that company names "are now being run through intelligence databases to guard against fraudsters." The government has been accused of cronyism on numerous occasions, with contracts being awarded to companies with no relevant experience in supplying PPE - and in some cases with no apparent experience of anything, having been set up just days or weeks before receiving government funds.

14 December 2020

Charities call for urgent closure programme for England’s child prisons

Press release from the End Child Imprisonment campaign, published on 10 December 2020.

14 December 2020

Four Greek officials charged with assaulting migrants

Three Greek border guards and one police officer were charged on Saturday with assaulting migrants during an identity check on Lesvos, according to a variety of press outlets. The charges reportedly include "beating asylum seekers" and "inflicting bodily harm, torture, and breaking anti-racist laws." The four men appeared before a prosecutor on Saturday evening and have been released, pending an investigation. The investigation comes following the publication of a video by the newspaper Efimerida ton Syntakton, which shows officers landing blows on two individuals even after they have been arrested and handcuffed.

10 December 2020

EU: Frontex report on removal operations in the first half of 2020 and fundamental rights observations

Statewatch is publishing Frontex's report on its forced removal operations in the first half of 2020, along with the observations of the agency's fundamental rights officer (FRO). The FRO report highlights a number of problems: a failure to correctly brief escorts on fundamental rights; not enough monitors available to cover all flights and not enough monitors on each flight; a failure to protect dignity and privacy during strip searches; wrongful disclosure of medical data to escorts; improper treatment of vulnerable groups; and problematic use of force and coercive measures. On this latter point, the FRO's report notes that: "A few monitors found that unauthorized coercive measures were used (steel shoes, helmets)."

10 December 2020

EU: Terrorist content online: Council presidency and European Parliament reach provisional agreement

The Council of the EU and the European Parliament have reached a provisional agreement on the text of the proposed Regulation on addressing the dissemination of terrorist content online, a controversial proposal that raises numerous fundamental rights concerns. The announcement comes following a series of secret "trilogue" meetings. Numerous organisations, including Statewatch, have previously called for changes to the text in order to protect individual rights; it remains to be seen what is in the final Regulation, which now has to be approved by votes in the Council and the Parliament as a whole.

09 December 2020

EU: Justice and home affairs agencies step up cooperation "to shape the digital future of law enforcement, border management and justice"

The EU's justice and home affairs agencies - which include Frontex, Europol, the European Police College, Eurojust and others - regularly cooperate through the JHA Agencies Network. Their annual meeting in mid-November focused on "digitalisation" in the fields of law enforcement, border control and justice, including "Artificial Intelligence and digital capacity building, training tools and innovative learning."

09 December 2020

German courts repeal more than 5,600 Afghan asylum rejections

Over 5,600 Afghan asylum seekers in Germany have had negative decisions on their applications for protection overturned by the courts in the first nine months of 2020, according to a report published by InfoMigrants. This represents a success rate for appeals of almost 60%; there were 9,557 appeals overall against negative asylum decisions in the same period. A politician from The Left (Die Linke), who submitted a parliamentary question that led to the government publishing the figures, says that they point to a need for a change in asylum decision-making policies.

09 December 2020

Frontex, 15 years of impunity : The outlaw agency must disappear !

Public statement from the Migreurop network in response to the allegations of Frontex's involvement in and/or knowledge of pushbacks at the Greek-Turkish sea border.

09 December 2020

UK: Digital borders scheme costing millions, with nothing to show for it

The UK Home Office's "Digital Services at the Border programme," which aims "to provide UK Border Force staff with better information to make decisions about people crossing the border and to track goods entering and exiting the UK," has cost hundreds of millions of pounds since it was launched in 2014 but has so far produced no results, according to a report by the National Audit Office (NAO). A recent pilot project saw the new systems being used on just 20% of passengers who passed through six of the seven ports at which they were deployed, and the Home Office "now has 16 months to introduce its new systems, including delivering the more technically complex aspects of the programme which it has previously struggled with," warn the NAO.

09 December 2020

EU: Tens of thousands of people call for Frontex director to step down

A petition for the resignation of Frontex executive director Fabrice Leggeri, launched by the campaigning organisation We Move Europe, has gained over 57,000 signatures within one week.

09 December 2020

EU: Online terrorist content: fundamental rights at risk in secret talks on new legislation

EU institutions are in the middle of secret negotiations on new rules that would simplify the removal of “terrorist content” hosted online, but there are serious concerns that some of the measures would breach fundamental rights standards.

08 December 2020

UK: UN expert calls for immediate release of Assange after 10 years of arbitrary detention

Nils Melzer, the UN Special Rapporteur on torture, has issued a press release calling for the immediate freeing of Julian Assange from Belmarsh prison, where he is being held pending proceedings to try to extradite him to the United States of America, and where there has been an outbreak of COVID-19. Melzer remarks that "Mr. Assange is not a criminal convict and poses no threat to anyone, so his prolonged solitary confinement in a high security prison is neither necessary nor proportionate and clearly lacks any legal basis."


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