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Dr Philip Garnett, a researcher on the Tipping Points project, reports on the 30th Chaos Communications Congress he attended in Hamburg, Germany in December that addressed topical issues such as mass surveillance, the future of the Internet and the Snowden affair.
conference photo

Glenn Greenwald (Guardian) giving his keynote presentation at 30C3.

The 30th Chaos Communication Congress (30C3) was always going to have at its heart the events surrounding the leaks of NSA files by Edward Snowden. In some ways I was banking on it. Why else would I drag myself away from Christmas leftovers and warm fires to get on a plane to Hamburg in the cold and rain? I’m glad I did. Amongst the talks on automatic fermentation of beer, and the vacuum tube races around the conference building, was a rich vein of presentations and discussions around (to paraphrase the opening speaker) the nightmare reality to which the community has woken up to from a bad dream.

Despite this, there was still a sense of fun at the congress. There were many stalls where you could enjoy learning to pick a lock, program a board of LEDs with the message of your choice, or check out the latest DIY 3D printers. However there was also a punishing timetable of talks reacting to, discussing, and trying to grasp the new post-Snowden future. One thing they all shared was in common was a sense of disbelief, or speechlessness. It wasn’t the confirmation that we are being monitored exactly (we all knew that) it was perhaps the scale of it, and a sense that nothing can be done to reverse it. Read the rest of this entry »

Department of Geography, Durham University, 21-22 November 2013

Keynote speakers (tbc): Prof. Pat O’Malley (Sydney)   Prof. Marieke de Goede (Amsterdam)   Prof. Rita Raley (UCSB)

The Securing against Future Events project is organizing a two-day conference on the forms and techniques of calculation that emerge with digital computation. How does the drive to make sense of, and productively use, large amounts of diverse data, inform the development of new calculative devices, logics and techniques? How do these devices, logics and techniques – from neural networks to decision trees, from Monte Carlo method to traversal algorithms, from text analytics to data visualisation – affect our capacity to decide and act?

In a world of changing data landscapes, how do mundane elements of our physical and virtual existence become data to be analysed and rearranged in complex ensembles of people and things? In what ways are conventional notions of public and private, individual and population, certainty and probability, rule and exception transformed and what are the consequences of these transformations? How does the search for ‘hidden’ connections and patterns using association rules, correlation rules or link analysis, change our understanding of social relations and associative life? Do contemporary modes of calculation, based on constant incorporation of heterogeneous elements, produce new thresholds of calculability and computability, allowing for the improbable or the merely possible to be embraced and acted upon? As contemporary approaches to governing uncertain futures seek to anticipate the yet unknown event – in domains as diverse as marketing and insurance, emergency preparedness and counter-terrorism – how are calculation and decision engaged anew?        Read the rest of this entry »

The city of Newcastle, North East England

Cities are often resilient places.  They can endure hazardous weather, crime, poverty, financial crises or even terrorist attacks, and yet still manage to bounce back.  At their backbone are networks of people dedicated to public safety who prepare for disasters if they were to occur.  In the public’s eye, this usually includes the local police and fire brigade yet there are many more involved behind the scenes from community groups to city councils, all the way to national government.  Community resilience is not something simply built from the top down, but grown from the ground up.

London, Newcastle and other cities in the UK involved in the Olympics have prepared for the possibility of security risks such as terrorist attacks, but also more common risks such as traffic jams and overcrowding.  But in order to prepare for these events and build resilience to them if or when they occur, cities must depend on people whose job it is to not only prepare communities, but communicate between government and other structures in place that are expected to manage them. Read more

Anyone who has been through airport security in the US before and after 11 September 2001 knows how it has transformed politically, socially and technologically.  Other countries, especially the UK, have fallen suit using similar scanning and surveillance technologies in large international airports such as Heathrow.  But the majority of passengers are ‘low risk’ meaning that they are unlikely to commit an act of terrorism either at the airport or when airborne.  Yet they are still often times forced to submit to procedures that are built upon the premise that they could be a terrorist or if not a terrorist then a potential threat or disruption to airport security, if not national security.  This is problematic for a number of reasons, especially considering the resources invested into securing airports from potentially anyone distracts from the ‘real terrorists’, whoever they may be.  In response to this conundrum, the TSA in the US is piloting ‘risk-based’ approaches to enhance airport security.  While avoiding the obvious non-culprits such as children, people over 75 and those serving in the armed forces, the TSA plans to depend more on techniques that monitor behaviour and implement ways to ‘pre-check’ passengers such as biometric verification and behaviour monitoring techniques. Read more

Hot Spots of Terrorism and Other Crimes in the United States, 1970-2008. START

A recent study from the University of Maryland funded in part by the Dept of Homeland Security in the US mapped out the concentration of terrorist attacks throughout the country from 1970-2008.  The findings show that the number of attacks has been significant in urban areas such as Los Angeles and New York City over time, but many terrorist attacks actually took place in rural areas.  The primary source of data for the study is the Global Terrorism Database that includes not only attacks from foreign terrorist groups, but attacks from home-grown leftist and right-wing ‘extremists’, along with violent religious groups.  Authors of the study define terrorism broadly as ‘the threatened or actual use of illegal force by non-state actors, in order to attain a political, economic, religious or social goal, through fear, coercion or intimidation’.  Taking this definition into account, the number of terrorist attacks in the US has actually dropped significantly since the early 1970s. Read more

After the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center (WTC) and the Pentagon, there is still much work to be done in how security, terror and risk are understood and prepared for in society.  Like financial crises, it is not so much a matter of if it will happen, but when it will happen.  The goal of increased security intelligence is to mitigate risk of any terrorist attack, but a recent review of national security in the US from the federal and state levels, all the way to the security technologies used by airports, shows that vulnerabilities do exist and they need to be addressed as soon as possible.  The 9/11 attacks not only changed how the United States viewed the risk of terror, but resonated with countries throughout the world who have experienced terrorist attacks since that tragic event, including the 7/7 bombings in London, the bombing of commuter trains in Madrid, the Belsan school hostage crisis in Russia that killed 330 people (mostly children) and a whole list of others.

The 9/11 Commission’s report, while literary in tone and revealing of a number of important details about the attacks, still only provides a limited scope of what actually took place before and after the attacks.  There were a number of testimonies left out of the report including one given by a former translator for the FBI, Behrooz Sarshar, who said he had knowledge of a ‘kamikaze pilot’ plan to attack the US.  He was formally interviewed by the 9/11 Commission who received pressure from the 9/11 Family Steering Committee to take Sarshar’s testimony and although a memorandum of this meeting is available online, it is heavily edited, with much of its content omitted.  Sarshar said he had written to FBI Director Robert Mueller twice about what he knew, but did not do so until  November 2002 and again in January 2003, long after the attacks.  When asked why he waited so long to bring forward this information ‘he said he didn’t want to do any damage to the FBI’.  Sarshar’s and other potentially useful testimonies were left out of the 9/11 Commission’s report. Read more

Policing terrorism at the University of Nottingham has been the subject of huge controversy, especially its filming of students suspected of being involved in terrorist activities.  It started in May 2008 when Nottingham student Rizwaan Sabir downloaded a copy of an al-Qaeda training manual for his PhD proposal and sought the support of staff member Hicham Yezza, who worked at Nottingham’s school of modern languages.  Both were arrested by counter-terrorist Met officers.  Freedom of Information Act documents posted on the website Unileaks reveal that they were mentioned in a report by the Home Office, Islamist Terrorist Plots in Great Britain: Uncovering the Global Network. Read more

A few months back, a statement was issued by the Federal Aviation Administration FAA in the US about chemical oxygen generators being disabled or removed from lavatories because they posed a ‘security vulnerability’ and could potentially be used to start a fire.  The problem of course is that if you happen to be in the lavatory of an American commercial aircraft thousands of metres above ground, and there is a loss of cabin pressure, it could lead to hypoxia — when the body is deprived of adequate oxygen supply — causing injury or death.

While loss of cabin pressure itself seems a rarity nowadays, this recent regulation shows that risks posed by terrorism can transform how we view other risks, such as health.  And while releasing information about eliminating this security risk definitely seems reasonable, will other airlines outside the US have to follow suit since the risk has been made available publicly?  Where do the boundaries lie between security, risk and national law?  When does making something secure create new risks while preventing others?  Obviously, preventing the possibility of terrorist attacks through various means has priority, as these risks can lead to disasters resulting in the loss of many lives and tremendous damage. Read more

IHRR has a programme of research dedicated to ‘Security and Risk’ and one element of this programme is thinking through how we are confronting new security regimes, such as those found in airports.

We live in technologically managed ‘risk environments.’  In some ways, everything is shaped around risk; it provides the margins, the guidelines for how we build a technological society.  Airports are the biggest example, particularly in post 9/11 US.  I recently visited the States — Detroit, Michigan.  Leaving from Detroit Metro Airport for London Heathrow I was in for a bit of a surprise, and whilst I recalled the past event of a passenger attempting to detonate an explosive device after his flight landed in Detroit from Amsterdam, I had no idea what I was in store for. Read more

This is an interview with Dr Francisco Klauser, a former leading researcher in IHRR’s Risk and Security programme.  He is currently an assistant professor in political geography at the University of Neuchâtel in Switzerland.

Dr Francisco Klauser

Dr Francisco Klauser’s research focuses on the relationships between space, risk/surveillance and power, especially public urban space and places of mobility.  In recent years, he has developed an international portfolio of work on security and surveillance at sport mega-events, including publications on the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany, the 2008 Beijing Games and the 2008 European Football Championships in Switzerland/Austria.  More recently he focused on the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics.

During his time at the Institute, he published in a range of journals, including theme-focused contributions in several fields and languages as well as in some of the most influential  academic journals such in English such as the British Journal of Sociology, European Urban and Regional Studies and Environment and Planning D: Society and Space. He is currently co-editing a book on Risk Research: Practices, Politics, Ethics (together with Prof Stuart Lane, under contract with Wiley-Blackwell), and journal special issues of Urban Studies on “Security, Cities and Sport Mega-Events” with Richard Giulianotti (IHRR, SASS) and of Environment and Planning D: Society and Space on “Revisiting Human Territoriality.” Read more

Hazard Risk Resilience Magazine Issue 2 Out Now!

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