Category Archives: On the Border

Be Careful Who You Mock

Okay, I may as well say it straight away. I am going to say something about the European Union, and I may as well spill the beans: I am not an impartial observer. My father came fleeing in a boat when he was not much older than Alan.

I am the product of him and a woman he met in his new country. In my desk drawer is a knife from a German working camp, which was the only thing – except for the clothes on his back – my grandfather brought with him when he was finally reunited with his family after the war. Today I use it to cut my apples. The second world war is very much alive for me, and so is the United Nations, the European Union, born in the wake of the war along with all the dreams and hopes of peace and collaboration they stand for. So yes, the Brexit makes me sad. Very sad. And as an expat in the UK, it will affect me, I’m sure. In no way am I an impartial observer in what  write here.

Personally, I can feel sad that the British, who after all share a history of war similar to mine, no longer share the same dream of collaboration. I can even feel angry sometimes. But I cannot critize the decision. However, I do feel there is reason to turn a critical eye towards the European Union and their marketing department, as well as towards media and how they choose to tell their stories. Luckily, thanks to another large collaboration project, the Internet, media companies are no longer the only one’s with a voice.

Not long ago a rumor circulated that Sweden would no longer be allowed to call the traditional spirit Glögg my its name. The rumors were unsubstantiated. The history of the European Union has been followed by similar scare-stories, many of them turned out to be a hoax or a misinterpretation. A misinterpretation that was nevertheless echoed loadly in the media before the much more modest correction was published. After Brexit, it has turned out that many of the arguments presented to the voters were in fact based on incorrect information. In a democracy, the power is with the people. But how can the people in power make a correct, intelligent and well informed decision if it is not fed correct information?

Stories of regulations that defy the common sense have circulated throughout the history of the EU, and are now termed Euromyths. Stories ranging from overzealous size and shape restrictions on fruit and vegetables to the forced renaming, rebranding or banning of certain local products.

Of course, these news makes for great headlines with a humouristic twist. Somehow, it does not seem so funny anymore. Luckily, the cucumber stories are not yet half as funny as the Hippler images. But of course, Nigel Farage lands the message not far from it.

Yep, that’s right guys. That’s me, the third guy from the right in the 17th row, coming to you my fellow British, to live and work and take salary away from my employer and deposit it with the tax office and the health service and the pension scheme. Secretly plotting to start a family and slowly, organically, taking over the country in a threatening horde of mixed background english-speaking babies.

Media likes to mock the sitting office and that is of course also their task to review and question and critizise. It is easy to poke finger at the highest power. No one likes someone who bullies the weak, the minority or the impaired. The Power is free game. But media, please do not forget that in a democracy, the power is really always with the people, and you are the ones forging the weapons. If a message of contempt and ill favor and ridcule is repeated without balance, it may feed not only a disregard for the party in office, but a contempt for the whole system it builds on. In the end, this paves the path to power for parties and people who openly question the democartic system they use to get there. We have seen it historically in Europe before what we hope will be the last great war, and we see it today displayed in front of cameras soon on daily basis.

In a media society, exposure is a currency worth more than the kind issued by any bank. Unfortunately, bad exposure is so much more potent than good. It is exploted by terrorists of many kinds.

I would ask you who make a mockery of the institution you live under to ask yourselves why you do it. Do you truly believe you are creating something better, or is the motivation simply a cheap attempt at five minute fame?

The war on terror continues to gnaw on civil rights

Just i few weeks ago, the European Parliament approved the gathering of Passenger Name Record (PNR) data for all flight passengers entering or leaving EU. The Parliaments summary of the stakes conclude:

“PNR data would enable law enforcement authorities to identify previously “unknown” persons, i.e. those previously unsuspected of involvement in serious crime or terrorism, but whom an analysis of the data suggests may be involved in such crime and could be further investigated by the authorities.”

The term “unknown” is unsettling.

In contrast to the current measures Advance Passenger Information (API) the Schengen Information System (SIS) and the second order Schengen Information System (SIS II), which only enables law enforcement to search for previously known suspects, this directive opens up for the investigation and tracking of individuals using airline passengers’ data irrespective of whether or not they are suspected of any crime. It is not a far drawn conclusion that some form of broad trawling will occur.

What will be the effect of such broad trawling of travel records and personal information, and the storage of the same? In opposition to API, stored records are just that – stored, and can then mostly be used after something has happened, or to track individuals of suspicion, but its effect in preventing a new attack is doubtful. Especially since would-be terrorists can read open media as well as anyone, and supposedly have no problems adjusting their travelling schedules to stay under the radar. If that happens what is the next step? To turn up the volume? Today’s directive is limited to external airborne travel (p.3). If it would be extended to internal EU travel – which will come under consideration in two years time – EU will have taken a first step from a union promoting free trade to a nation of surveillance.

Will this happen? It seems the exclusion of intra-EU flights is not primarily because of concerns for data protection, but a request from air carriers (p.7), who feel this would “imply heavy costs and an unfavourable competitive position compared to other
transport modes”. Including other modes of transport in the directive would surely solve the unfairness in competitive position and has also been proposed in the 2011 working paper on impact assessment (p.38).

The combination of an extension to internal-EU flights and all modes of transport would certainly be happy days for programmers and IT-technicians. Worse days for passengers who will most likely be stuck with the effect of this through higher ticket prices. The worst of days for anyone concerned with personal privacy.

It seems, the concern for terrorist activity has tipped the opinion of policy makers in the direction of efforts to improve security instead of civil liberties. With no regard for the fact that terrorists have repeatedly shown the ability to strike despite all such efforts. From a terror perspective, one target may be just as good as another. If one seems to hard to reach, there is always a plan B, a strategy well demonstrated by the Brussels attack. It is thought that, after the Paris attack on Friday, 13 November 2015, a second one was planned, but that the target changed, and the schedule was rushed as a result of successful efforts from law enforcement.

For a terrorist, harder oppression is rarely a problem. But a terror organisation that cannot recruit has a worse problem. In a dictatorial police-state, terrorist activity is next to impossible. But harder pressure from the enemy (the free state) will also mean just the opposite – more potential candidates willing to sign up.

For the free state, the situation is reversed. Tools of surveillance, oppression and interference in civil rights will – maybe – make the single terrorist easier to catch, but what’s the point, if – by that time – the free state is no longer free? It’s a lose-lose situation.

Secondly, once tools of oppression are created they are there to stay. Today, these tools may be wielded by law enforcement and government officials in more or less transparent democracies in which we believe we can trust, but what happens when this is no longer the case? Governments change, but the tools we hand them remain.

Terrorists seek publicity by spreading fear and chaos, but also seek to polarise the debate and create a harder climate between “us” and “them”. Unfortunately there is no shortage of politicians anxious to help them along by demonstrating to the press and the public that they are  taking resolute action. If the resolute action is effective or not, does not appear to be under much consideration. Nor is there a shortage of IT and defence firms seeking new markets. No conspiracy theories needed – a self-driven spiral of common interest will suffice. By enforcing more and more restrictions, we are slowly creating a society less and less like the the society we want, and more and more like one the terrorists would like.

The European Data Protection Supervisor, discussing PNR systems more generally, has noted that (p.4):
“The fact that recent technological developments currently render wide access and analysis possible […] is not in itself a justification for the development of a system aimed at the screening of all travellers. In other words: the availability of means should not justify the end.”

Asking for Evidence

The EU directive on gathering Passenger Name Record (PNR) data for all flight passengers entering or leaving EU will imply an increase in cost for air carriers and be severely intrusive to data protection. Is it worth it? Is it effective? Are the effects proportionate to its negative impact?

So far, no hard evidence has been presented by EU institutions to demonstrate the need for PNR collection and analysis, as has been previously reported by Statewatch (p.3).

The Commission’s impact assessment on its proposal relied on three cases to illustrate the necessity of the system.

The first example (p.12) is a case where PNR analysis uncovered a group of human traffickers always travelling on the same route. The second case (p.12) relates to human and drug trafficking cartels, identified on the basis of having bought tickets with stolen credit cardsby PNR. The third argument is the unsubstantiated claim by a number of third countries and member states that (p.13):
“The experience of those countries shows that the use of PNR data has led to critical progress in the fight against crime, in particular, drugs and human trafficking and the fight against terrorism, and a better understanding of terrorist and other criminal groups through the gathering of intelligence on their travel patterns.”
However, no data from member states is shown to support these statements.

Several institutions have raised the need for evidence:

The Article 29 Working Party, an advisory institution made  up  of  representatives  of  EU  Member  States’  data  protection authorities, has stated that (p.3):
“The Working Party has yet to see any statistics showing the ratio between the number of innocent travellers whose PNR data was collected to the number of law enforcement outcomes resulting from that PNR data.”

The European Data Protection Supervisor, discussing PNR systems more generally, has noted that (p.4):
“The necessity of the measures must be established and supported by concrete evidence”

Despite this, the fight against terrorism is mentioned in the European Parliamentary Research Service briefing (p.1) as the primary reason behind the PNR proposal.

The Fire Window through the Ask for Evidence campaign in this open letter invites the European Parliamentary Research Service to present evidence for the claim that the implementation of a framework for surveillance would in fact reduce terrorist activity within European borders.

The European Union of Ghettos

After a few months after Swedish authorities closed the border, it is time to carry out a citizens test the crossing. For those who are not familiar with southern Swedish geography, the two countries are connected by a bridge, with the Swedish city Malmö on one side and the Danish capital Copenhagen on the other. Despite the fact that Malmö has its own airport, the Copenhagen airport is both closer and more frequented. Consequently, most airborne international traffic enters Sweden via Denmark. Before the ID checks were in place, this was as easy as landing in Malmö. The two cities have over the years grown together to one region, and the border has been free to cross since 1958. This has changed.

If you land in Copenhagen today, inbound from an international destination, your passport will be checked at the Copenhagen airport as usual, but after this, you’d better not put it away. Danish border check will check it again upon entering the train platform. Not even after you board the train you can relax. As soon as the train arrives on the Swedish side, the Swedish border check will again ask you for an ID, before you are allowed to continue.

Let us assume that you arrive from a country within EU with special restrictions, such as the UK, with an extra ID check before you even enter the plane, then we end up with the final count of four ID checks on the way between two countries in the same European Union, with its vision to promote free speech, trade and movement.

Is this the Union we stive to create?

NOTE: This article does not go into detail of the much more serious consequences for refugees and others without a valid ID, as this has been much debated in other forums. For instance, Swedish Radio has published an good investigative documentary on the border situation (in Swedish).

How Terrorists Negotiate European Politics

On 14 April 2016, the European Parliament finally approved the much debated proposal on the storage and analysis of data from flight passengers entering and leaving Europe, the so called PNR data. New Europe reports:

“Travel arrangements recorded as PNR data are used to identify specific behavioral patterns and make associations between known and unknown people.”

For now, the directive only concerns external flight passengers, but the proposal includes an option to extend it to internal passengers as well, to be revised in two years time. According to New Europe, the vote was preceded by intense lobbying from (among others) the French prime minister. The history of this proposal provides an interesting insight into how we let external events and fear influence the policies we make.

The EU PNR proposal was presented to the Commission in February 2011 and was rejected by the Civil Liberties Committee in Apr 2013, on the grounds of questionable proportionality between the scope as regards offenses and as regards privacy and impact on society. After this, the debate around the proposal was low key. but in 2014, it was referred back to the Civil Liberties Committee. Shortly after, the political arena of Europe changed. On January 7-9 2015 5 terrorist attacks took place in the Ile the France region starting with the the Charlie Hebdo shooting and ending in the hostage situation on an industrial estate in Dammartin-en-Goële and in the kosher supermarket in Porte de Vincennes.

When debating the issue again on November 11 2014, the Civil Liberties Committee were still divided, but

“most stressed the need to assess the EU Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling annulling the data retention directive, to assess whether existing measures suffice before taking new ones and to put in place adequate data protection safeguards.”

Two days later, on November 13, terrorists attacked the Bataclan theatre and a number of other targets in Paris. Not even a month later, the proposal was endorsed by the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee on 10 December 2015 by 38 votes to 19, with 2 abstentions. Not surprisingly, the final proposal was approved on April 14 2016. In between, terrorists struck Brussels on March 22.

Anyone with a tendency for conspiracy theories would point out the almost perfect timing between these external events and the scheduling of politically sensitive votes. Of course, The Fire Window is not prone to such accusations, but from an introspective perspective it is of interest to note the change in tone between the issues released from the Article 29 Working Project over the same time.

The Article 29 Data Protection Working Project (WP29) is an independent group under Directive 95/46/EC of the European Parliament. It has an advisory capacity with regard to the protection of individuals and the processing of personal data. In a press release following the Charlie Hebdo shootings, the WP29 state that

“Today  more  than  ever,  European  citizens  need  to  show  that  our  societies  will  stand
strong on their common values. These values are fundamental democratic assets, which have developed and matured over centuries and must not be surrendered, whatever the circumstances”


“The  current  situation  obviously  makes it  more  necessary  than  ever  to  ensure  that  an appropriate balance is struck between these different, but not contradictory objectives.” [“The objectives” referring to the  “freedom of speech or freedom of movement vs public security requirements and the need to foster innovation”]

In the aftermath of the Snowden scandal in 2014, the contents of The Opinion 04/2014 on surveillance of electronic communications for intelligence and national security purposes (p.2) the tone is even stronger:

“From its analysis, the Working Party concludes that secret, massive and indiscriminate surveillance programs are incompatible with our fundamental laws and cannot be justified by the fight against terrorism or other important threats to national security”

The above two examples chimes well with the concerns raised against the original PNR proposal in 2011, whereas the most resent press release, on the April 2016 vote, carries a very different tone when it states:

“The WP29 welcomes this major decision for European credibility and has already started
working  to  ensure  a  smooth  and  constructive  transitional  period  for  all  stakeholders,
especially to be ready to act as the European Data Protection Board on Day 1.”

Thank You, IS

We hardly had time to start debating the effects of the extraordinary actions in response to the increased number of refugees from Syria and the IS, when IS gives us further reason to bring the question of migration and refuge to the table. Regardless of the terrible tragedy to the innocent involved, this is the time to extend a thanks to the Islamic State, if they are in fact (as they claim), responsible for this appalling act.

Migrants from Africa and the Middle East have been arriving to the European Union in ever increasing numbers for the past several years, often at great personal risk to themselves. The situation is now affecting not only the governmental agencies specially equipped to handle these matters, but the society as a whole. The question of how to deal with the situation has caused increasing discussion between representatives of the EU member countries. Together with other causes of disagreement (the financial situation comes to mind) the tone of the debate has sometimes reached an alarming tone. Nothing is so devastating for any relationship as financial trouble and disagreements on the division of labor, and on occasion sometimes there has been a feeling that the EU is soon ready for marriage counseling. Under the pressure of every day activities  – of how to provide for refugees, attempting to share finances equally and regulating detailed laws in a fair fashion – in this daily toil we sometimes forget to raise our heads, and see what it is we are working for.

What we have forgotten to ask ourselves is the reason why we came to be the target for all those people on the move, hoping for a better life. Can it be so, that if so many people strife so hard to enter this Union, even risking their own life in the process, that there is something in this it worth striving for? The terrorist attacks on Paris by IS makes us ask the same question. Why were we targeted?

The answer to both can only be one.

So thank You, IS, for making us raise our heads, and see what You offer on the other side. Thank You for making us remember why we constructed this Union of Europe in the first place. Thank You for making us remember why we made the choice of going down the road of collaboration instead of competition, consensus instead of confrontation, words instead of arms, peace instead of war. Thank You for reminding us that our way of life is worth our support, and that it is in need of our constant protection, so much more in the face of the alternatives.

Let us hope that the promise we gave to each others when entering this union was no less than the commitment of a marriage. In bad times, as in good times, till death do us part – even with marriage counseling if necessary.

Control of the Swedish Border

open door copy

Open door policy

Thursday, 12th November, the Swedish Border Police initiated ID checks at a few places along the south and west borders. The last time there were border checks for non-Nordic citizens at internal Nordic borders was in 1958.
The action is intended as a temporary measure, and is not very surprising, given that Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Finland has done the same thing for some time. However, both the intended and the actual effect of this action merits some consideration.

Swedish Police states on their website that asylum seekers will be treated as usual, and that the right to seek asylum will not be compromised, but that persons not seeking asylum, or persons who can not prove their eligibility to enter the country satisfactorily, may be refused entry. The result may paradoxically be that the number of applications for asylum will increase as a consequence. Anyone who is entering the country, for whatever reason, without the legal right to do so, and is caught, may feel obliged to seek asylum. Already, Aftonbladet reports cases where people have entered Sweden with the intention to continue to Denmark, Norway or Finland to seek asylum there, but when being detained at the Swedish border felt forced to seek asylum.

The Swedish Police further states that controls will be random, and that every person crossing the border will not be checked. A total control is not possible, says Patrik Engström, in charge of the Police Border Division. One could image. More than 15.000 people commutes daily across the Öresund bridge between Sweden and Denmark on a daily basis.

The trains alone between Malmö and Copenhagen leaves every twenty minutes for most of the day, which gives a total 3 transports per hour or about 70 per day. If calculating half the commuters to use the trains (the rest by car or ferry), this gives us an average of approximately 100 people per train. Anyone who has ever used those trains will soon spot the underestimate, especially during the most popular commuting hours.

If we assume a successful passport check (that is a check which leads to now further interrogation or detention) takes 10 seconds, it would then take 16 minutes to check all the passports on the train. Given a police salary of 25.000 SEK per month, the cost of this check would be about $300/day for one very efficient police Officer to carry out. A reasonable cost, for better order, one may think.

In reality however, we may expect a somewhat different picture. We will leave it up to the Reader with an economic interest to add the cost of Swedish tax, pensions and mandatory compensations to the cost.

With regards to the speed of the check, we leave it to the Reader skilled in particle flow simulations, to calculate the average speed for a average weight, average fit and average socially competent police officer to maneuver through a swamped train cart at rush hour.

Finally we leave it up to the Reader with a social interest, to calculate the cost of delays to the over 15.000 commuters every day, including the domino effect of their customers and employers.

However small or large, there is a cost to consider. One may assume there is also the expectation of a gain at some point. Unfortunately, the comments from responsible, as well as the single day used to take the decision, seem to indicate that not much planning has taken place. Instead, the comments from the authorities breaths of an experimental approach. The checks are to last for 10 days initially, with potential prolonging, depending on the effects.

The decision to start the border checks has a background in the situation at Migrationsverket, says Mikael Hvinlund, communications manager, to the newspaper Dagens Nyheter (Daily News). The hope is that controls will result in a more structured refugee reception.

Police are not allowed to perform checks based on ethnic origin, gender, race or appearance. One may wonder how effective a check can be if the police is not allowed to check anyone who looks like an immigrant. Of course, what is stated in the police manual, what is communicated officially and what takes place in practice, are very different things. When the CEO at Migrationsverket was interviewed in Swedish radio on Thursday, the work “dignity” was repeated several times. One may wonder if not an informational booth at the border, giving aid and information when asked, would present a more dignified reception into this country.