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Belgian report
by Euro Reporter
2014-06-09 12:17:19
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Do France and Belgium have direct wiretap access to telecom switches?

Vodafone put out a highly informative report on the intercept practices of the countries where it does business. The greatest news interest was spurred by its statement that some countries tap directly into the provider’s infrastructure and take what they want without notice to the provider: In a “small number” of countries, Vodafone said in the report, the company “will not receive any form of demand for communications data access as the relevant agencies and authorities already have permanent access to customer communications via their own direct link.” Vodafone refused to name the countries. But I can’t help thinking that the report provides some pretty clear clues about two of them. I suspect we’ll soon discover that they are France and Belgium. The reason is buried in the footnotes to the report. The report gives reasons when it does not disclose the number of lawful intercept warrants the company received in a particular country. Sometimes reporting on wiretaps is prohibited by law.

belgium_400_01But in eight cases, the report doesn’t cite legal restrictions on disclosure.  Instead, it says that it has no intercept numbers because there is “no technical implementation” of lawful intercept capabilities in those countries. In one country, Kenya, there’s no implementation because Kenyan law prohibits operators from deploying wiretap capabilities. In the other seven, though, the reason the company gives is murkier: “We have not implemented the technical requirements necessary to enable lawful interception and therefore have not received any agency or authority demands for lawful interception assistance.” You might think those are countries that have simply decided not to do lawful intercepts, perhaps because intercept equipment is expensive or technically demanding. For five of the seven, that’s plausible. They are Mozambique, Ghana, Lesotho, Tanzania, and Fiji. But the other two on the list are France and Belgium. Does anyone think that these two countries lack the resources, the technical skills, or the will to conduct lawful intercepts? Hardly. France is second to none in its enthusiasm for state intelligence collection, and especially for wiretaps. And Francophone Belgium is often heavily influenced by the governing style of French institutions.

It is inconceivable that these two countries lack a robust wiretapping capability. It is also inconceivable that they would fail to tap mobile phone systems, including Vodafone’s. Yet Vodafone says that it has not received any demands for lawful interception from these countries and has not implemented the technical requirements to enable lawful interception. The answer may be in how the Vodafone report seems to define lawful interception — as requiring that the operator carry out the wiretap: “In most countries, governments have powers to order communications operators to allow the interception of customers’ communications. This is known as ‘lawful interception’…. . Lawful interception requires operators to implement capabilities in their networks to ensure they can deliver, in real time, the actual content of the communications (for example, what is being said in a phone call, or the text and attachments within an email) plus any associated data to the monitoring centre operated by an agency or authority.” So if Vodafone had been ordered simply to give the governments of France and Belgium direct access to Vodafone switches, I’m guessing that Vodafone’s report would say that it had not implemented lawful interception in those countries. Which is what it does say.


Brussels Jewish Museum shooting suspect Nemmouche resists extradition to Belgium

Mehdi Nemmouche has told a court in Versailles that he does not accept automatic extradition to Belgium on the basis of a European arrest warrant. His legal team wants any potential trial to take place in France. The 29-year-old suspect in the fatal shooting at Brussels' Jewish Museum last month said on Thursday that he would fight against extradition orders from Belgium. The hearing on Mehdi Nemmouche's extradition was rescheduled to June 12 as a result, allowing the defence time to prepare its case. "We have had very little time to prepare and that is the reason that we have asked for this hearing to be adjourned so that we can correctly prepare our arguments," Nemmouche's lawyer, Apolin Pepiezep said. The roughly ten-minute hearing involved only short answers from Nemmouche himself - who said "yes" when asked if he acknowledged the extradition order, and then "no" when asked if he submitted to it.

"We will not be talking about the facts today," lawyer Pepiezep said. "He will explain himself later on." Nemmouche was arrested last Friday in Marseilles, although prosecutors first confirmed his detention on Sunday. Travel records show that Nemmouche had taken the bus to the southern French city from Brussels that Friday. The 29-year-old with dual French and Algerian citizenship was carrying a Kalashnikov rifle, wrapped in the flag for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), and a handgun when he was arrested, according to prosecutors. He was also said to have a video recorder in his possession where a voice, believed to be his, could be heard speaking about the shooting at the Jewish Museum. The video did not show the suspect himself. Lawyer Pepiezep said on Thursday that his client "has in no way ever said" he committed the crime. Prosecutors had said on Sunday, however, that there was a "strong body of evidence," besides the purported video, tying him to the shooting.

Nemmouche had spent time in French prisons before, and French prosecutor Francois Molins said he travelled to Syria "three weeks after he was freed" to join Jihadist groups in the country's civil war, staying for around a year. The ISIL terror group is active in Syria. Even if the court ordered extradition in the June 12 hearing, Nemmouche would still have legal recourse to challenge the issue and likely delay the process further. Three people were killed and another was left clinically brain-dead after the May 24 shooting in Brussels. Nemmouche is charged with "murder and attempted murder in the context of terrorism." Jewish leaders urged Europe to do more to prevent anti-Semitic attacks in the aftermath of the shooting, highlighting in particular radicalized fighters returning from Syria. This was one of the issues European interior ministers were slated to discuss at a meeting on Thursday.


Asylum granted to Guinean man in Belgium after threats in Greece

In the first case of its kind, an African refugee has been granted asylum by Belgium despite already having asylum status in Greece. Mamadou Ba, who is from Guinea, was targeted by the far-right group Golden Dawn. He was first physical attacked and that was followed by a campaign of harassment. He told euronews about his first encounter with Golden Dawn thugs: “When I saw the motorcycle coming, I thought ‘Damn it’. I knew it was them from 200 metres away. The second motorbike arrived and the driver saw that I was African. So he whistled at me. Other motorbikes came along and stopped. They asked me “What are you still doing in Greece?” I replied ‘Me?’ At that point they began to shout, ‘Answer our questions’. They drove into me and I started to run. There was another motorbike down the street and I hadn’t realised it was there. I came face to face with the driver. Immediately he took out an iron bar, and hit me over the head. I called out to my mother. That’s the only thing I remember saying. I yelled, ‘Mum’. People passed me by on the street and nobody stopped to help me, nobody at all. When I regained consciousness 40 minutes later, I stopped a taxi. I was covered in blood and the first question he asked me was “Do you have money?” I said “Yes, I have money,” said Ba.

The 40-year-old Guinean had arrived in Athens in 2006. He found a job and became involved in the African community. But life became difficult for him after the rise of Golden Dawn in 2010. Being an active member of the immigrant community, he decided to publicly denounce the attack he had suffered from a so-called ‘battalion squad’ in central Athens. From that day forward he would become a target for the Golden Dawn. “I don’t know how they got my address but they turned up at my house. They put a ‘Golden Dawn’ sticker over my doorbell that also had a message written on it ‘Mamadou, we’ll come back another day. We missed you today’. When that happened I decided to move house because it was obviously dangerous for me there,” he recalled.

But Mamadou did not go to the police because he felt he would not be protected. He had had some bad experiences in the past, which he had spoken about with the media. The police had arrested and humiliated Mamadou for no particular reason.  “Once during a routine check of my passport the police handcuffed me and took me to a station. I spent four hours there. They stripped me, took pictures of me, filmed me…. After all that had happened they asked me one question. ‘Would I speak to the media again?’.” said Ba. After the murder of the musician Pavlos Fyssas by Golden Dawn, Ba’s colleagues from the anti-fascist movement in Greece warned him that he could be their next target and advised him to leave the country.  So, they bought him a ticket to Belgium and he arrived in November 2013 where he applied for political asylum. Five months later, his request was granted. As his lawyer Olivier Stein explained, the authorities had to examine both his situation in Guinea and in Greece. There was no reason given publically for granting him asylum. “The Belgian decision does not explain whether Greece is just unable to protect him from Golden Dawn, or whether Greek authorities should be considered to be as responsible as Golden Dawn,” said Stein. Last year Greece only granted protection status in less than four percent of cases that were brought while Belgium approved one in five – around 20 percent.


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