Use of facial recognition technology extended to airports across the USA

332.- baixaFacial recognition technology is already being used by 15 airports, including three outside the US, to increase the number of pre-approved travellers using the expedited customs process.

During the last three years, CBP – Customs and Border Protection – has been rolling out facial recognition programs at entry ports across the country, including the nation’s international airports. Now, the agency wants to extend the use of technology to their optional Global Entry programme.

The Global Entry programme allows frequent, “low-risk” travellers to bypass traditional border controls and go directly to baggage claim after visiting an automatic kiosk. To date, Global Entry at most airports consists of scanning the traveller’s passport and fingerprint at the machine before clearing them to enter the country.

But from now on, the CBP wants to speed-up the process by offering pre-approved Global Entry travellers the possibility of using facial biometrics, eliminating the need for a passport or digital fingerprint.

The CBP began implementing facial recognition for Global Entry through a pilot scheme at Orlando international airport in June 2018. The programme has since been extended to 14 other airports.

The agency released a privacy impact statement detailing how the programme will roll out at airports across the country, becoming the standard for Global Entry.

Global Entry kiosks already have cameras that take photos of travellers, although many of these will be updated or replaced as the programme is expanded. The CBP also plans to include privacy notices on the upgraded machines informing travellers of the new process.

Images captured by the kiosks will be saved to the Department of Homeland Security’s automated biometric identification system – IDENT, which the agency is in the process of transferring to HART, a new and more advanced cloud-based recognition database.

For greater accuracy when comparing photos for a facial recognition match, priority is given to photographs from travel documents as well as other recent photos.

According to the privacy statement, changing to facial recognition lowers the privacy risk to travellers because the programme already took photographs at the kiosks and no longer needs to collect digital fingerprints.

An important note in the impact statement clarifies that enrolees are not required to use the facial recognition program and can instead opt to use the passport and fingerprint method, which will remain available. Should any technical issues occur during the facial recognition scan, the kiosks will automatically revert to using the passport and digital fingerprint method.

Travellers will also still be required to provide a copy of their passport and fingerprints when signing-up to the Global Entry scheme.


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2019 was the most violent year on record in Mexico

331.- MEXICimagesAccording to a government statistics report from the country’s National System for Public Safety published in January 2020, Mexico recorded more than 330,000 crimes in 2019. The crimes include 52,000 homicides, of which 34,852 were intentional.

Mexico, a country with a population of 127 million, recorded 27 homicides for every 100,000 inhabitants in 2019.

The homicide statistics are the highest since recording began. Mexico began gathering official data on the topic in 1997. It reveals that the country’s homicide figures have increased by 2.7% in comparison to 2018. The months of June, July and August, with more than 3,000 murders per month, was the most violent period of the year and also when the government took the controversial decision to deploy the National Guard.

However, the report did give some cause for optimism; during the last four months of the year, no month recorded more than 3,000 homicides. Considering there were 9,182 homicides between June and September, this can be taken as a positive.

The rise in violence coincides with an increase in femicides; 1,006 women were killed in 2019. This figure is an increase on the 912 femicides recorded in 2018.

By state and number of assassinations, Guanajuato, the scene of many confrontations between cartels, was top of the list with 3,540 killings. It was followed by Baja California and the State of Mexico, home to the country’s capital city. The most violent state by crime rate is the small Pacific state of Colima, which has less than one million inhabitants. Its 760 homicides resulted in 107 assassinations for every 100,000 inhabitants, putting it at the top of the tragic leader board and surpassing El Salvador’s rate of 62 per 100,000.

The statistical study presented by the Ministry of Public Security also shows an increase in the number of victims for the five priority crimes, which are murder, femicide, kidnapping (which rose from 1,559 incidences in 2018 to 1,614 incidences in 2019), extortion (a 29% increase to 8,523 victims) and finally people trafficking, which rose by 12.6% to 644 victims in 2019.

Furthermore, the report draws attention to widespread violence throughout the country, contradicting the argument of those who defend the logic of regional or focused dynamics. The state of Sonora saw its homicide figures increase by 57%, Hidalgo by 49% and Aguascalientes by 32%. Other states, like Coahuila, Chihuahua, Campeche, Nuevo León, Oaxaca and Jalisco also saw notable increases in their homicides rates.


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There is growing concern about the increase in armed violence in Sweden

330.- turning-torso-4009540_960_720In 2019, 320 armed confrontations led to 41 deaths and more than 100 injuries in Sweden. Gang conflicts, mainly relating to drug trafficking, are thought to be responsible for the escalation in violence.

In mid-November 2019, Denmark took the unprecedented decision to temporarily suspend the Schengen agreement and tighten controls along its border with Sweden. It justified the closure of its border to the free movement of people and goods by arguing that it was necessary to stop the violence spreading from Sweden and prevent criminal gangs, responsible for 129 fatalities in the last three years, from entering the country.

Despite this, the Danish police force suspects that Swedish gang warfare was behind the explosion which destroyed the Copenhagen headquarters of the Tax Agency in summer 2019, and a double murder that took place in the city’s suburbs.

Although the numbers of confrontations, deaths and injuries have levelled out since 2017, the headlines surrounding this type of violence are increasingly concerning. On the last day of 2019, for example, a 20-year-old man was murdered in a Stockholm suburb. The victim was wearing a bullet-proof vest but was shot in the head.

The Swedish police force and criminologists believe that many of the murders are revenge killings or honour disputes, sometimes between members of the same gang. The groups are rooted in city suburbs and tend not to have rigid internal structures.

In Stockholm, they have identified 1,500 active gang members belonging to around 50 gangs, with high mobility among the groups. The members are very young and extremely violent. So much so that the growing number of explosions are now more alarming than the exchanges of gunfire. Between January and February 2019, there were more than 230 recorded explosions, an increase of 50% compared to 2018.

The fundamental purpose of the explosions is to threaten and intimidate. Typically, they are triggered at night time in non-operational commercial or business premises with the doors closed. Occasionally, the explosions claim victims who have nothing to do with the criminal activities of the gangs.

Until recently, the gun battles and explosions had been primarily restricted to large Swedish cities like Stockholm, Malmö and Gothenburg. Lately, however, the attacks have decreased in the major cities and increased in previously unaffected locations. Northern Sweden is a prime example, reporting 3 shootings in 2017 and 28 in 2019.

In Malmö, the city that has suffered the most violent episodes to date, law enforcement, the city council, the prison services and civilians were involved in a joint operation to try and rescue young people from the spiral of gang-related violence. Unfortunately, it was mostly unsuccessful. In Malmö alone, 80 minors between the ages of eight and fourteen years old have been identified by the police as gang members.


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32 Colombian mayors voice their concerns about the safety of their citizens

329.- 29658304984_d35f7b617c_bThe mayors of the 32 Colombian district capitals met with the Ministry of Defence to set out and coordinate their priority requirements for public safety. The mayors, represented by the Asocapitales guild, say that public safety is now their most pressing concern.

They want the Ministry of Defence to provide a coordinated response to the problem by addressing five specific issues:

– Measures to reduce homicides

– Tools for dealing with public demonstrations

– Redesigned security models

– The treatment of drug addiction as a mental health issue

– Overcrowding in prisons

The mayor of Cali, Jorge Ivan Ospina, was chosen to represent the mayors at the Ministry of Defence. The mayors state that they are facing a crime epidemic which threatens the health, lifestyle and wealth of their citizens, and that any initiative to tackle the problem would be welcome. With this in mind, the mayor of Valle del Cauca announced that his city would be setting up a reward fund to help capture criminals, a strategy previously employed in Medellín.

The mayors argue the need for more comprehensive policies to be rolled out through education, culture and sport, and say that radical opposition to adults who use minors for criminal purposes must be forthcoming. One of their proposals is that every municipality should have a dedicated public safety task force.

Another is that the national surveillance guidelines for police precincts be redesigned. They believe that when planning and drafting policing methods, the idiosyncrasies, culture and crime phenomena of each city must be considered.

With regard to drug use, the mayors want to see the problem treated as a mental health issue, arguing that comprehensive policies on addiction are required. The objective, according to the mayors, is to see order and security on the streets and transform no-go areas into safe and secure environments for all.

Lastly, the Asocapitales guild made the Government aware of their concerns about the situation in both prisons and Immediate Reaction Units (URI), as well as raising the issue of a lack of funding for building new penitentiary facilities.


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Prison population plummets in the Netherlands

328 PRESONSThe Netherlands has closed 23 prisons in five years and has the third-lowest incarceration rate in Europe, with 54.4 incarcerations for every 100,000 inhabitants. The prisons have been converted into temporary asylum centres, housing and hotels.

The Dutch judicial system’s success in reducing its prison population can be partly attributed to rehabilitation programmes for people with mental health problems.

Certain people undergoing psychiatric treatment are the beneficiaries of a growing trend in the country; avoid sending people to prison unless it’s absolutely necessary. One of the key aspects of this is a successful programme of care in the community for people with psychiatric problems.

The programme has two aims: to prevent another crime, and to alleviate psychiatric suffering and the social problems that accompany it. The programme regularly deals with patients suffering from psychotic vulnerability, autism or severe learning difficulties which are often combined with serious personality disorders, addictions, financial problems, housing and family-related issues. They are frequently traumatised.

According to the Justice Ministry’s WODC Research and Documentation Centre, the number of prison sentences imposed in the country has fallen from 42,000 in 2008 to 31,000 in 2018. Furthermore, the country has seen a two-thirds drop in jail terms for young offenders, and registered crimes also fell by 40% during the same period, to 785,000 illicit in 2018. Another contributing factor is the increased use of non-judicial penalties such as fines or the use of court-ordered mediation.

There’s also a psychological rehabilitation programme known as TBS. TBS forms part of the criminal justice system but deals specifically with people who can be held not accountable or only partly accountable for their actions.

People eligible to be considered under TBS must have committed a crime which carries a minimum prison sentence of four years and have a high chance of re-offending. The programme concentrates on their reintegration into society. If this is not deemed possible, or they refuse to cooperate, they can be transferred to a high-security prison.

The criminal justice system takes the view that although prison sentences may appear to be the most logical and efficient way to improve security, the truth is that it only helps to create even more dangerous criminals. With this in mind, it believes that less aggressive methods are capable of achieving longer-lasting results and make it easier for people who have committed a crime to reintegrate into society successfully.

It concludes that life in prison is institutionalised, tightly controlled, and therefore nothing like life in the real world. Younger people also tend to be the ones that suffer the most in prison.

Changing our perspective on imprisonment as the standard solution for crime allows us to research more effective preventative measures.


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The European drugs market is growing in scale and complexity

327 DROGUESDuring the first few days of December 2019, over 150 delegates from EU Member States, third partner countries and nine international organisations gathered at Europol’s headquarters for the 3rd international conference on drugs in Europe.

The conference focused on the worsening drug problem in Europe, which is expanding in both scale and complexity as supply increases across all types of narcotics.

Trends discussed at the conference
• Organised crime groups: There are more than 5,000 identified criminal groups operating in the EU in 2019 and new types of organised crime groups continue to emerge.
• Scale of the drugs market: The drugs market is thought to be the most significant criminal market in the EU, with more than 35% of active criminal groups dealing in the production, trafficking, distribution or selling of drugs.
• Supply and trafficking: Europol has detected a definite increase in the supply and traffic of drugs, with the EU being not only a hub for the production of synthetic drugs but also a key market for cocaine. One of the most popular methods used by smugglers to traffic cocaine into the EU is shipping containers.
• Violence: Violence arising from confrontations between criminal groups is increasing.
• Terrorism: There’s clear evidence, outside of the EU, that the revenue generated by some organised crime groups involved in drug trafficking funds terrorist activities.
• Deaths: Drug-related deaths in Europe primarily affect the younger and most vulnerable members of society.
• Asset recovery: Despite comprehensive legislation on money laundering in EU Member States, the number of assets and proceeds successfully confiscated remains extremely low. Only 1% of the billions of euros generated from illegal drug sales in Europe gets confiscated and more needs to be done to address this situation. There is, therefore, a growing number of criminal groups with significant profits, which they can use to finance other illegal activities and infiltrate legitimate business structures.

Response from law enforcement agencies
Law enforcement must address these developments and invest heavily in drug-related investigations in Europe. This response must include improved orientation towards the criminals most likely to be involved with organised crime in the EU and beyond.
Europol’s 2020+ strategy aims to make its operational services available to investigations being carried out by EU Member States, to improve the quality of information stored on its databases and ensure responsive support when required.
The EU’s strategy on organised crime
During the conference, delegates debated the need for an EU-led strategy on organised crime and recommended that it should aim to address the following:
• prioritise operational law enforcement efforts against high-risk organised crime groups in the EU by focusing on high-value targets as selected by the Member States with the support of Europol.
• improve handling of communications encryption and other new technology-related methods exploited by organised crime groups.
• increase operational cooperation with South American and other countries relevant to the EU as an essential tool for dealing with both general drug trafficking and the cocaine trade in specific cases.
• address inconsistencies in the legal framework and working processes used to investigate drug trafficking and other international issues relating to organised crime in the EU.
• place more emphasis on the confiscation of criminal assets.


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Extensive international operation against RAT spyware

ULL ESPIA RATThe operation has taken down the hacking tool which was able to give full remote control of a victim’s computer to cybercriminals. The successful outcome was the result of an international law enforcement operation targeting the sellers and users of the Imminent Monitor Remote Access Trojan (IM-RAT).

The investigation, led by the Australian Federal Police (AFP), with international contributions coordinated by Europol and Eurojust, resulted in an operation involving numerous judicial and law enforcement agencies in Europe, Colombia and Australia.

The coordinated activity of these law enforcement agencies has brought about an end to the availability of this software tool, which was used, as a minimum, in 124 countries and sold to more than 14,500 buyers. IM-RAT can no longer be used by those who bought it.

The investigation began several months ago, but in June 2019, search warrants were executed against IM-RAT developers in Australia and Belgium. An international week of actions took place in November, resulting in the takedown of the Imminent Monitor infrastructure and the arrest of the 13 most prolific users of the RAT. Furthermore, 430 devices were seized during the operation and will now undergo forensic analysis.

This insidious RAT, once installed undetected, gave cybercriminals free rein to control the victim’s machine remotely. Hackers were able to disable anti-virus and anti-malware programmes, carry out commands such as recording keystrokes, steal data and passwords and watch the victims via their webcams, all without the victim’s knowledge.

This RAT was considered a dangerous threat due to its features, ease-of-use and low cost. Anyone with the nefarious inclination to spy on victims or steal personal data could do so for approximately US$25.

The global scope and technical nature of this type of crime mean that effective cooperation and coordination between all the relevant actors are crucial for combating it and overcoming obstacles to investigations.

Victims are believed to be in the thousands, with investigators having already identified evidence of stolen personal details, passwords, private photographs, video footage and data.

The public and businesses can take simple steps to protect themselves from this type of malware, for example:
• Update your software, including anti-virus software.
• Install a good firewall.
• Don’t open suspicious attachments or emails, even if they come from people on your contact list.
• Create strong passwords.


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Fifty-nine per cent of worldwide arms production takes place in the USA

ARMES PRODUCCIOSales of arms by the sector’s largest 100 companies (excluding those in China) rose to US$420 billion in 2018, representing an increase of 4.6% compared with the previous year. This is according to new data released by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

The SIPRI data shows that arms sales by the Top 100 companies have increased by 47% since 2002. It should be noted that the database excludes Chinese companies due to a lack of data making it difficult to arrive at a reliable estimation.

For the first time since 2002, the top five armament companies have their headquarters in the USA. And the total arms sales by US companies rose to US$246 billion, equivalent to 59% of all arms sales by the Top 100 in the ranking. This figure represents an increase of 7.2% compared with 2017.

For their part, Russian arms sales remain stable. The combined sales of the ten leading Russian companies to appear in the 2018 ranking were US$36.2 billion. A slight decrease of 0.4% compared with 2017.

SIPRI confirmed an increase in arms sales for French companies but a decrease for British and German companies. The combined arms sales of the 27 European companies in the Top 100 increased marginally in 2018, to US$102 billion. Arms sales by companies based in the UK fell by 4.8%, to US$35.1 billion, but remained amongst the highest in Europe.

The combined arms sales of the French companies in the Top 100 were the second-highest in Europe, at US$23.2 billion. Total combined sales for the four German arms-producing companies in the ranking fell by 3.8%.

Eighty of the Top 100 arms producers in 2018 were based in the USA, Europe and Russia. Of the remaining 20, 6 were based in Japan; 3 in Israel, India and South Korea; 2 in Turkey, and 1 in Australia, Canada and Singapore.

The combined sales of the six Japanese companies remained relatively stable in 2018. At US$9.9 billion, they accounted for 2.4% of the total for the Top 100 companies.

The SIPRI Arms Industry Database was created in 1989. At that time, it didn’t include data for Eastern European countries, including the Soviet Union. The current version contains data from 2002 onwards, including that of Russian companies. Chinese companies are not included because of a lack of available data on which to make a reasonable or consistent estimate of arms sales dating back to 2002.

It should be clarified that arms sales’ are defined as sales of military goods and services to military customers domestically and abroad.


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New ransomware attacks target NAS storage devices

RANSOMWARE AL NASRansomware attacks targeting network-attached storage devices (NAS) have exponentially increased in recent months.

NAS systems, available for business purposes and home setup, are devices connected to a network to provide centralised storage capacity and backup data.

The number of ransomware strains targeting NAS and backup storage devices is growing, with users as yet still unprepared for the threat.

Ransomware has many different guises. The malware variant is popular with cybercriminals who use it to attack businesses, critical services – including hospitals and utilities – and individuals.

Once deployed on a system, the malware will usually encrypt files or full drives, issue its victim with a ransom note, and demand payment in return for a way to decrypt and restore access to the locked content.

There’s no guarantee that paying will result in decryption, but many will do so rather than lose their files; and when critical systems such as those at government bodies or healthcare providers are locked, there’s additional pressure to return to normal operations as quickly as possible.

The average consumer will often come across ransomware deployed through phishing campaigns and fraudulent messages or bundled within illegitimate or compromised software. However, researchers say that network-attached storage devices (NAS) are now also under direct threat from malware operators.

The devices may be accessed directly through a network or may have a web interface. The problem is that user authentication can sometimes be bypassed due to integrated software in NAS systems that have vulnerabilities.

To begin an attack chain, operators will first scan a range of IP addresses to locate internet-accessible NAS devices. Next, they will attempt to exploit its vulnerabilities and, if successful, deploy Trojans and begin encrypting the data of all the devices connected to the NAS unit.

Researchers cite WannaCry as the most popular type of ransomware used by cybercriminals, followed by Phny and Gandcrypt.


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Racial and ethnic disparities in the American justice system decline


The study, headed by William J. Sabol, ex-director of the United States’ Bureau of Justice Statistics, and criminologist from the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies at Georgia State University stops short of analysing the motives for the decline in racial disparities.

The Council on Criminal Justice commissioned the study which found that between the years 2000 and 2016, the most recent year for which combined federal and state data was available, ethnic and racial disparities across the prison and probation population of the United States declined.

Although African Americans still account for the largest ethnic group in the United States justice system, the black-white disparity has significantly decreased in the last two decades.

The decline is evident across all major crime categories, with the most significant decrease observed in drug offences, where the imprisonment rate for African Americans has reduced from 15 times the rate of whites to just under five times the rate of whites in the last decade and a half.

Hispanic-white disparities followed a similar trend, with the most significant reduction occurring among the conditional-release population, which fell from 3.3 times the rate of whites in 2000 to 1.4 times the rate in 2014.

The pattern was especially evident in the number of African Americans arrested for drug crimes, which fell from a peak of 2,177 per 100,000 inhabitants in the year 2000 to 1,274 per 100,000 in 2016, a decrease of some 41%. It’s important to note that some states began making fewer arrests for marijuana possession in response to the growing pro-legalisation movement.

Racial disparity continues to be a pressing problem for the system, but the latest figures are a sign of significant progress in addressing the issue. In the last 40 years, black imprisonment rates have ranged from about six to eight times those of the white population.

Decreasing racial disparity was particularly notable among those held in prison. The number of incarcerated black adults fell by 10% between 2000 and 2016, dropping from 589,499 to 527,675. During this period, black-white disparity in prisons fell by 42%.

During the same period, the number of whites in state prisons increased by 18.6%, rising from 452,232 to 536,183.

The authors of the study found a similar decline, although to a lesser extent, in disparities among the federal penitentiary population. The black-white disparity fell from 8.4 to 1, to seven-to-one between 2001 and 2017. In the same period, the rate for the Hispanic population fell from 7.3 inmates for every white inmate, to 4.6 inmates for every white inmate.

The decline in the racial disparity between black and white women was even more pronounced than for the men. In the year 2000, there were six African American women for every white woman in the North American justice system. By 2016, the figure had reduced to just two African American women for every white woman behind bars.

In the same period, the number of black women in state prisons fell by half, while the number of white women increased from 25,000 to 60,000.

According to the study, the considerable decline in the black-white disparity among women results from a significant drop in the number of black women in prison for drug crimes, in conjunction with an increase in the number of white women imprisoned for drug-related and violent crimes.


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