Europe also finances digital surveillance in Africa and the Balkans with humanitarian aid

Europe also finances digital surveillance in Africa and the Balkans with humanitarian aid

Six NGOs denounce the investments of the European Commission and agencies such as Frontex and Cepol to the community mediator for the use of support funds to buy spying devices and courses

Surveillance (photo: Luca Zorloni / Wired) In 2019 on the desks of the Near Directorate-General of the European Commission, which deals with neighborhood relations and projects to enlarge the Union, comes a 46.3 million euro project for the management of borders and migratory flows in Libya. Almost all of it is financed by the European union trust fund for emergency in Africa, a Union fund established in 2015 and consisting of 80% humanitarian aid to direct resources to the socio-economic development of the continent. And that in 2017 also takes the drama in Libya under its wing, with a 90 million program to protect migrants and support the country's rebirth. But to read where about 20 million of the 46.3 million of the project to the Near management end up, to which Italy also contributes 2 million, it turns out that the Fund for Africa was also used to pay for "training for Libyan coast guard "and fleet maintenance," integrate the capabilities of patrol vessels with existing or new radar stations along the coast "and provide new dinghies, SUVs, buses, ambulances, radio-satellite communications devices and body armor.

And that's not the only case. On 6 March 2018 in Warsaw, the European border control agency, Frontex, meets envoys from the Italian government and the Mission for Assistance to the borders of Libya wanted by the Council of the European Union. The theme of the meeting is a course for 20 crew members of the so-called Libyan coast guard, who will be employed on three boats that Italy is repairing to donate them to the government led by Fayez Serraj.

During the three weeks of training, the organizers, including the International Cooperation Office of the Ministry of the Interior and the Financial Police School of the Guardia di Finanza, will also teach participants how to secure "evidence for investigation or espionage purposes ", with the aid of electronic tools, such as collecting biometric data, such as fingerprints," including from children and vulnerable people "and defense techniques that" can be used in the arrest of suspects on board ". All paid for with the support of the usual Fund for Africa. And, above all, without taking into account the danger that the acquisition of these tools and skills could entail in terms of abuses on migrants, widely documented in Libyan detention camps.

“An evaluation risk assessment for the course identified no possibility that the program could facilitate human rights abuses or undermine the local reputation of the European Union, despite evidence that Libyan authorities shot or beat migrants aboard boats or threatened non-governmental organizations and reports that proved that people were held in crammed detention camps, where disease was rampant and subjected to serious human rights violations, including rape and torture, "reads the formal complaint filed with the office of the European mediator, Emily O'Reilly, who oversees the body in charge of investigating allegations of maladministration by the institutions of the Union, by six non-governmental organizations: Privacy international, Access now, The Border violence monitoring network, Homo digitalis, the International federation for human rights and Sea-watch.

From a presentation by Cepol (Privacy International)

The fund for Africa used for surveillance

The Italian case is one of the many that ended up in the papers obtained and made public by the coalition of NGOs, which denounced the 'export of surveillance skills and technology by the European Union to third countries, especially in Africa and the Balkans, in defiance of the same EU rules. According to the indictment, based on dozens of documents obtained with access requests and correspondence, Brussels is financing the strengthening of invasive control devices, used by the beneficiaries to violate the privacy of individuals, repress dissent and crush other fundamental freedoms. >
Senegal, 2018: 28 million euros from the Fund for Africa go to the construction of a biometric identification database. A project financed without an upstream risk study, the NGOs denounce. In the same year, Brussels insured 11 million euros for Jordan for investigation software and information systems. Money allocated without knowing what kind of technology will be purchased, the complaint reads. The same amount goes to Lebanon to finance armed units that patrol the borders.

From a presentation by Cepol (Privacy International)

Financing to the east

In 2016 the European Union decides to strengthen the border between Ukraine and Belarus and pays almost 800 thousand euros out of a total of 946 thousand for an "intelligent video-control system" at the border point of Novaya Huta-Novi Yarylovychi. The project papers describe the adoption of a software, Prinex, always financed with European funds since 2015 and used to exchange a series of data on incoming goods between customs: type of products transported, weight, model of the delivery vehicle, license plate .

When the truck arrives at the border, cameras at the gates photograph the vehicle and the occupants to match and compare the data collected with the snapshot with those communicated in advance and present in the archive to ensure that everything matches. To activate the new smart customs, the papers read, "it is expected that about 60% of the project funds will be spent on goods such as networked rooms, equipment for recognizing vehicle number plates and software".

To Bosnia, on the other hand, in 2019 Frontex is organizing to provide devices for the collection of fingerprints. A contract that stands still for a year and about which the papers tell little, except that the Japanese multinational Nec won the contract, which then pulls back due to "lack of capacity", because the documents reach the NGOs with many darkened parts. Due to the pandemic, the collection of documents took longer than expected and not in all cases the European institutions consulted, i.e. the Commission, Frontex, the European External Action Service (the diplomatic arm of Brussels) and the Union Agency for law enforcement training (Cepol), have provided all the required data.

From a presentation by Cepol (Privacy International)

A spy lesson

Cepol, in particular, had already ended up on Privacy International's radar for its training courses with which it trains the police of Balkan and African countries to use espionage and tracking techniques to spy on citizens on the internet and on social media. For example, this dossier shows that, from 21 to 25 April 2019, the community agency teaches members of the Algerian Gendarmerie to use open source intelligence techniques to monitor the network. In particular, the document focuses on the extraction of communication metadata and the use of fake accounts, explaining how to use image editing tools and how to keep the profile alive so that it looks real.

While the seminar, the activists recall, in Algeria “a great protest movement, known as the Smile Revolution, was underway, culminating in the resignation of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika after 20 years in power. What followed was a wave of online disinformation and censorship, led by networks of pro-regime fake accounts posting propaganda and flagging the profiles of key activists. While there is no evidence that any of these troll networks were run by the training participants, the promotion of techniques to silence pro-democracy voices by the European Union in a key neighboring country should sound an alarm bell. None of the documents received by Cepol indicate that adequate training was also provided to ensure the use of these surveillance tools in a way that respects human rights ".

A few months later Cepol is in Morocco to provide assistance on how to pursue your goals on social networks. The presentation of Facebook reads: “Help stalkers since 2004“. The agency lists a series of tools to extract data from platforms and to build social graphs. In Montenegro, on the other hand, Cepol is also dedicated to Imsi catchers, devices that make it possible to intercept mobile communications. A type of technology that he often explains in his courses, although last year the European Parliament and the Council agreed to limit the export of dual-use goods (out of bureaucracy, those have a purely civil use, but which could also be used for military purposes, such as drones or chemical agents) such as biometric technologies, Imsi catchers, trojans, spyware or intrusion programs. The limits, however, seem not to apply when Europe goes by itself to teach how to use these products.

The request for an investigation

NGOs are now asking the mediator to investigate agencies and the processes put in place to prevent abuses related to the financing of intrusive technologies and espionage skills and to protect human rights. “European entities must ensure respect for human rights in their external relations, for example by verifying the risks that their actions can cause to human rights - observes Ioannis Kouvakas, legal manager of Privacy international -. But these controls are lacking when transferring surveillance resources outside of Europe ". For this, echoes Marwa Fatafta, policy manager for the Middle East and North Africa at Access now, "we ask for checks by the European mediator".

If the financing "to the so-called Libyan coast guard is nothing other than a systematic violation of human rights ”, observes Bérénice Gaudin, advocacy manager at Sea-Watch, in general there is a fundamental contradiction with the founding principles of the Union. "Not only do the treaties specify that the Union, in its external action, must aim to advance democracy, the rule of law, the universality and indivisibility of human rights - observes the permanent representative to the Union of the Federation international for human rights, Gaelle Dusepulchre - but that the Union has an obligation to respect human rights “. And without upstream control, concludes Manos Papadakis, co-founder of Homo Digitalis, the provision of surveillance technology and skills "can be a serious threat."

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Africa Cybersecurity Europe Gdpr Migrants Privacy Surveillance globalData.fldTopic = "Africa, Cybersecurity, Europe, Gdpr, Migrants, Privacy, Surveillance "

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