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Recent media coverage has focused on the rise of facial recognition technology as a tool for autocracy, especially in China, where the government uses it to profile [[link removed]] Uighurs and other ethnic minorities. But autocratic control, it turns out, is enticing in democracies, too. In London, the world’s second most video-surveilled city, police are trying out [[link removed]]mass dragnets by relying on facial recognition software to catch more criminals. In reality, these facial recognition sweeps are chilling. In one operation journalists observed, police officers ordered a man walking on a public sidewalk to remove his hoodie and baseball cap so that they could scan his face. His face didn’t trigger any alarms, but he still ended up with a £90 fine, for telling the officers demanding his consent to “piss off.”
Iran deal or Iran no deal
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists gathered six leading experts on the Iran crisis and asked them a question that has been curiously absent from most coverage of the Iran nuclear deal’s slow demise: If Iran and the US wanted to avoid war, how would they go about it? Their answers, collected here [[link removed]], demonstrate both how much opportunity there still is to avoid mass bloodshed and how much disagreement there is between experts about how to get from here to there.
On one side of the divide, observers like the Belfer Center’s Chuck Freilich basically argue for staying the course. According to Freilich, the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign could produce a broader deal with Iran and the likelihood of war is low.
On the other side, Princeton’s Seyed Hossain Mousavian argues that the idea of maximum pressure producing any sort of expanded deal is a “fantasy” and that the only way to undo the damage done to the US-Iran relationship is direct talks, not just between the US and Iran, but between Iran and its chief regional antagonist — Saudi Arabia.
FORWARD TO A FRIEND [[link removed]] Facebook’s data colonialism
Midnight Oil almuna Faine Greenwood has a new piece [[link removed]] about Facebook’s recently announced push to build a population map of Africa. The project, now pitched as a humanitarian effort that will produce openly-available data useful for disaster relief and the like. The data may well be used for that, but, as Greenwood points out, Facebook’s early rhetoric about the project betrays its true purpose. In an effort to expand its audience, Facebook has long attempted to “connect the unconnected” to internet access on Facebook’s terms. This form of “data colonialism,” in which Facebook does some of the technical work necessary for people to get connected in exchange for the most valuable thing that connection produces — users’ personal data — generates huge ethical questions.
Some previous efforts, such as Facebook’s Free Basics internet package, have been blocked by governments concerned about giving Facebook a preferential place in their national cyberspace. India’s decision to block the service in the name of net neutrality basically signaled its death knell.
The mapping project is likely to go forward — indeed, data for Malawi, South Africa and Ghana (as well as Sri Lanka and Haiti) are already available — and the fate of putting the world’s user data at Mark Zuckerberg’s fingertips rests with regulators.
FORWARD TO A FRIEND [[link removed]] DEEP DIVE Women in rebellions
Today in Deep Dive, we’ll expand our thinking on insurgencies who recruit members from privileged classes by looking at what happens when insurgencies recruit women in particular.
Popular literature tends to eroticize female fighters, but they are actually quite common in civil wars. Between 1979 and 2009, 40% of civil conflicts featured women on the front lines, and many rebel groups went out of their way to recruit them. Gendered expectations of violence aside, their participation makes sense. Women are as likely to share the political and economic grievances that drive most civil conflict and their entrance into rebel movements gives movements some key advantages. For one thing, rebel movements that recruit women dramatically expand their recruitment base. That expanded base also means expanded access to social networks crucial to rebel group success.
Alex Brathwaite and Luna Ruiz, from the University of Arizona, wanted to dig into the impact of women in rebel groups. Using a dataset of nearly 200 civil conflicts, they ran some numbers to see how things work out for groups that recruit women and those that do not. Generalizations were hard to come by, but a few interesting results emerged. The relationship between overall rebel recruitment of women and rebel victory is inconclusive, but there is a significant negative relationship between rebel recruitment of women and government victory. Which is to say, women in rebel groups don’t necessarily make the group more likely to achieve its goals, but they do seem to make the group harder to stamp out.
Braithwaite and Ruiz also found that the manner of recruitment has a huge effect on the correlation between women in rebel groups and government victory. The overall data on women in rebel groups included situations where women joined voluntarily as well as situations where they were forced into rebel groups. When Braithwaite and Ruiz isolated situations where rebel groups forced women into the ranks, however, the chances of government victory actually grew.
That distinction may offer insight into the particular social networking value that women bring to rebel groups. When they join voluntarily, they are likely to bring their networks with them. If, however, rebel forces compel them against their will to leave their lives and join the fight, those networks are likely to be severed. They might even work against the rebel group.
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Stephen Snyder tracked [[link removed]] how Western weapons arrive in Saudi Arabia for use in the Saudi war in Yemen, and how protesters are making the journey more difficult every step of the way. The Saudi state-owned shipping company Bahri, which delivers weapons to the kingdom, has been the target of protests and dock strikes in almost every major port where they receive weapons. From peace activists in Canada, to dock worker unions in Italy, people shocked by the horrific tactics Saudi Arabia has used against Yemeni civilians are trying to clog the gears of the Saudi war machine.
William Hartung evaluated [[link removed]] the defense budget deals recently agreed to by Congress and the White House and found them wanting. The deals will appropriate $738 billion for defense activities in 2020 and $740 billion in 2021, including record spending on nuclear weapons. Without addressing the kind of bureaucratic malpractice that sees the Pentagon pay $71 for pins that should cost a nickel, Hartung argued, these spending increases amount to an invitation for even greater waste of taxpayer dollars.
Orla Berry spoke [[link removed]]with two unaccompanied minor migrants now making lives in Italy. Their stories are harrowing, but hardly unique — 26,000 unaccompanied minors entered southern Italy in 2016 alone. Italy’s new right-wing government has removed protections for many young migrants, but some, like the young women Berry spoke to, have been able to build relationships with Italian families who act as guardians.
FORWARD TO A FRIEND [[link removed]] WELL PLAYED
Alex Wellerstein was checking out [[link removed]]some nuclear imagery in music videos for early-90s classic rock songs for, you know, some reason — and then inspiration struck [[link removed]].
President Donald Trump thought he had a nominee for director of national intelligence in John Ratcliffe last week, then evidence surfaced that Ratcliffe had lied about his counterterrorism experience. That’s a bummer for the administration, but good news for Critical State in our search for the best alternate headlines. [[link removed]]
One of the major security challenges states face is understanding what actually goes on within their own borders. For example, if you didn’t take a census, how would you know where the Knight of the Thimble [[link removed]] was plying their trade?
The US military: invents GPS.
Also the US military: makes GPS impossible to use [[link removed]] on its home turf.
A guy who claimed to be the president of an unrecognized country on the border between Albania and Greece was found murdered in a Dutch canal a couple weeks ago. It turns out that he was running military parades for a private army in the back of his farmhouse in the Dutch countryside. His neighbors all seemed to know about his scheme, but they weren’t that concerned. Why? Because he promised [[link removed]] them corrupt no-bid contracts from his made-up country! Said one Dutch entrepreneur: “The president promised me that he would build 210 kilometers of new roads in his new country, Chameria. For that, I could deliver 50 tractors and 100 crawler cranes, of a quarter of a million euros each. So, I was thinking mainly of getting that contract."
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Critical State is written by Sam Ratner and is a collaboration between PRI’s The World and Inkstick Media.
The World is a weekday public radio show and podcast on global issues, news and insights from PRI/PRX, BBC, and WGBH.
With an online magazine and podcast featuring a diversity of expert voices, Inkstick Media is “foreign policy for the rest of us.”
Critical State is made possible in part by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.
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