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France thrust on counter terrorism initiatives after glaring security gaps exposed by brazen attacks

France suffered a series of deadly terror attacks in November 2015. In 2015, the brazen murders of 17 innocent people, in three separate attacks in as many days, have revealed serious breaches and lapses in the French system of intelligence, surveillance and security, according to numerous counterterrorism experts. In July 2016, at least 84 people, including two Americans, where killed and more that 200 others were injured when a man plowed a truck into a crowd watching Bastille Day fireworks in the French Riviera city of Nice. Police shot and killed the driver.


The French security forces were then criticized for lowering  the level of alert and allowed enough freedom in terms of operating, finance and preparing for attacks, despite well-known links to terror concerns. Even with strict gun-control laws, the siblings and their ex-convict confederate were able to obtain an arsenal of heavy arms. Experts also pointed to shortage of manpower and resources to survey growing number of possible jihadists, estimated about 3,000 to 5,000, their phones, laptops and iPads. Security could also not prevent the proliferation of jihadi videos on social media, the growth of radical jihadi preaching and the relative ease with which citizens of France can get into Turkey and across the Syrian border. The government then declared the state of emergency, which was extended until Nov. 1, 2017.


The Law to Strengthen Internal Security and the Fight Against Terrorism  ended a long-time state of emergency across the country threatened by repeated terror attacks, conforms with the spirit of legislators, the enforcement team of the French Senate which oversees the law said in a report in February. French parliament in Oct 2017, approved counter terrorism law that will bolster police surveillance powers and make it easier to close mosques suspected of preaching hatred and measures like search and seizure and house arrest without judicial review.


The law comprises four key measures. Firstly, it permits the establishment of protection perimeters in order to ensure security at events, such as sports and cultural events, or in particularly vulnerable places. The prefect will be able to authorize visual bag inspections and security frisking by private security agents, under the supervision of police officers and gendarmes. Internal security forces will also be able to search vehicles with the consent of the driver.

Secondly, it allows the closure of places of worship when “words, writings, activities, ideas or theories” that incite or endorse terrorism, and incitement “to hatred and discrimination” are used there.

Thirdly, it allows the administrative authority to put in place administrative controls and individual monitoring measures against any person of whom there is serious reason to believe their behavior constitutes a “particularly serious” threat and who enters into regular contact with individuals or organizations with terrorist intent or who supports or adheres to views that incite terrorism.

Fourthly, it allows prefects to order, only with the prior authorization of the judge supervising releases and detention, the entry and search of any place if there is serious reason to believe it is being frequented by a person posing a terrorist threat or who is in contact with such person or persons.


Since then the French security forces has effectively contained to those sorts of terrorist attacks that have become more and more common over the past three years. Metal bollard, large concrete flowerpots, or similar blockades,  have been placed at the entrance  of parks and other vulnerable places to prevent a car from driving into the open spaces. CCTVs monitor  passersby on any given street to detect suspicious behavior. Unmanned camera drones also conduct aerial surveillance at major public events, like the recent parade, scanning the crowd for bad actors and helping security officials track suspect activity as it unfolds.


France is to beef up its domestic spy agency, create a national anti-terror prosecutor and a special unit to monitor radicalised inmates when they leave prison, the prime minister announced. A special profiling unit will be created to better identify and understand extremists at risk of turning violent. “The threat has evolved. We need to adapt ourselves,” said Mr Philippe from DGSI headquarters in Levallois-Perret, west of Paris. “Today the terrorist is no longer remotely-controlled by cells in Syria,” he said. The threat now came from “petty criminals, psychologically weak, indoctrinated or self-radicalised people”., with prisons seen as breeding grounds for radicalisation.


The prime minister’s office published 32 measures to fight terrorism, and Philippe added eight other measures that will remain behind-the-scenes. The measures include tighter surveillance of those under house arrest, greater coordination with the welfare system to track suspects, and expanding the role of military patrols beyond their current patrolling duties.


France is revamping its anti-terrorism organizations by creating a single operational team to oversee all of the country’s intelligence and prosecution to counter terror threats and plots on its soil, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said. “We must give new possibilities to our action,” Philippe said in a press conference at the headquarters of France’s domestic intelligence service DGSI in Levallois-Perret near Paris. “The Islamist-inspired threat remains particularly high.”

French politicians urge deployment of surveillance technology after series of attacks

France has so far resisted a broad rollout of surveillance technology in public spaces. That could be about to change. After a series of bloody attacks, right-wing politicians and a minister in President Emmanuel Macron’s government have called for increased use of surveillance technology, breaking with privacy advocates in the name of tracking would-be assailants and preventing further violence.


Jean-Baptiste Djebbari, the transport minister, said in the wake of a schoolteacher’s beheading on October 16 that he was “largely in favor” of using artificial intelligence to fight terrorism on public transport networks if individuals’ privacy rights were respected. “The idea is to use artificial intelligence to track suspicious behavior, and it’s already being done in several countries,” Djebbari told a national radio station on Sunday.


Valérie Pécresse, a conservative politician and president of the Île-de-France region that encompasses Paris, argued early on Friday for lifting restrictions on facial recognition. “In our region, we have placed cameras in all transport networks. We cannot use them today to fight the risk of terrorism,” she told France Info radio. “We do not have the right to use artificial intelligence technology, which would allow us to spot suspicious movements — someone who is prowling, who is checking out locations, someone who we see is wearing an explosive belt.”


In the Mediterranean city of Nice, where three people were killed on Thursday in a knife attack described as “Islamist terrorism” by Macron, the conservative mayor is also an outspoken supporter of technological surveillance. It was an experiment with facial recognition in his city — cameras deployed at the entrance of two high schools — that prompted the CNIL to rule against the initiative in October of last year.


French technology alternative for counterterrorism would take 2 years, says Thales

A French alternative to technology from US data analytics giant Palantir to help France prevent possible terrorist attacks would take around two years in development, the defense group CEO said on Friday Thales (PA :). The French intelligence services turned to Palantir, specializing in the processing and analysis of large amounts of data, following the November 2015 attacks in Paris and Saint-Denis which killed 130 people.


The contract, which was initially for three years, was renewed last year. According to the Directorate General of Internal Security (DGSI), this renewal was carried out for lack of a French alternative, even though President Emmanuel Macron pleaded for European digital sovereignty in the face of the domination of the United States and China. A French version of the tool developed by Palantir is possible but would require the support of the French state, said Patrice Caine, CEO of Thales, during a lunch with the Anglo-American Press Association.


“The economic stake is very low,” he said, specifying that the contract signed by the DGSI with Palantir was worth a few million euros. “Then there is the issue of sovereignty, autonomy, independence and that is a question for which only the State has the answer”, he added. According to Patrice Caine, the implementation of a French alternative to Palantir could be rapid. “It’s a question of years (…) We will say two years. It goes quickly,” he said.




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