Tag Archives: crime

Hungary to introduce nationwide facial recognition technology

Today I am venturing into an area about which I have only very superficial knowledge: facial recognition technology. From the little I could learn about the system that is going to be introduced in Hungary at the beginning of 2016, it doesn’t involve taking new pictures of all Hungarian citizens but only coding the existing pictures on their ID cards. I might add that not only the biometric pictures of Hungarian citizens will be stored. So will those of everyone who ever lands on the territory of Hungary. According to László Majtényi, the director of Eötvös Károly Intézet (EKIT), a legal think tank, this new Hungarian facial recognition database will be unique in the world. The technology is widely used to identify known or suspected criminals at entry points such as airports, but only Hungary is going to have biometric pictures of an entire population.

So far only LMP, the Hungarian green party, and EKIT have objected to the introduction of this enormous database, consisting of more than ten million people’s coded “pictures.”

From what I managed to find out about the effectiveness of the technology, I’m not sure whether the Hungarian government picked the best way to keep the country safe from terrorists and other criminals. According to a fairly recent article on the subject, the technology is far from perfect. The FBI apparently has a facial recognition database that includes 52 million faces, about a third of all Americans. But since the data is read off a single mugshot, the accuracy of these biometric photos is only 80%. I think we can safely say that the accuracy of the Hungarian database will not be any better than that of FBI.

face recognition

Another problem I can foresee is that Hungary is again going its own separate way just when the European Union is beefing up and coordinating security among the nation states. It is not at all clear that the chosen method of screening for would-be-terrorists or simple criminals will be facial recognition. In fact, I suspect that it will not be and that Brussels will settle for traditional fingerprint technology, especially since, as it turns out, the Turkish government fingerprinted and did palm-vein prints on the refugees from Syria who entered Turkey. Moreover, according to a November 17 background briefing on refugee screening and admission, the “biometric checking” the United States has in mind will most likely consist of comparing fingerprints to already existing FBI, State Department, and Department of Defense files. And the existing European Union database of asylum seekers, called Eurodac, is also based on fingerprint technology. Eurodac is described as “the electronic heart of the European asylum system.”

According to vs.hu, sometime in October the director of the migration department in the Turkish Prime Minister’s Office talked to Hungarian journalists about the existence of their near-complete database of Syrian refugees registered in Turkey. However, when vs.hu inquired from EU’s Frontex, which is in charge of “integrated border management,” whether there is any cooperation between them and the Turkish authorities, the answer was “no.” The Turkish migration office confirmed Frontex’s information. The “bureaucrats in Brussels” also seem to be in total darkness concerning the Turkish database. Cooperation requires political will on both sides, and Turkey might extract a high political price to share its database. But as vs.hu‘s András Kósa says in his article, an attempt should certainly be made to see whether the EU could use the Turkish information on the bona fide Syrians registered by Ankara.

If one looks into the history of the idea of introducing a nationwide facial recognition system in Hungary, it is pretty clear that whatever the aim of the Hungarian government is, it has little if anything to do with the current refugee crisis and the anti-terrorism efforts underway. A year ago a “pilot program” was launched in District VIII, using “the very best” unnamed software system. The information received in the district was then sent on to one of the many secret service offices. It was at the end of August that the ministry of interior announced its intention to propose the introduction of such a system nationwide. The reason for its introduction are many: to counter the international forgery of documents, as a tool in criminal investigations, to aid in the identification of dead bodies, and for the security of politicians.

The database itself will not include personal pieces of information, like names and addresses, but there will be a so-called “contact code” which, in case of need, would allow the authorities to access details about the person being sought. In addition to the police, the five or six secret services, TEK (the anti-terrorist super police), even the parliamentary guard responsible for the safety of the speaker of the house, László Kövér–all told, eighteen organizations will have access to the database, which will be maintained by a 50-member office to be established before the newly adopted law takes effect on January 1, 2016.

Human rights activists realize that a greater effort to help ensure the safety of European citizens will have to be made in the face of terrorist threats, but they object to having a database like the one the Hungarian government proposed and parliament adopted on November 17. László Majtényi is convinced that the Constitutional Court of former days would never agreed to the introduction of such a sweeping control mechanism. Today, however, the Hungarian government doesn’t have to worry about the court finding this piece of legislation unconstitutional. So the only outstanding question is how useful the system will be. Surely, it would have made sense to coordinate such an effort with Brussels and other member states instead of going ahead without any consultation. But cooperation is not exactly the strength of Viktor Orbán.

Fact checking Viktor Orbán’s latest speech

I know that some readers found Viktor Orbán’s speech more worthy of analysis than I did. To me, it was just more of the same. I did, however, decide to do some fact checking. Orbán’s assertions about the dangers immigrants pose to European civilization might be technically correct (and, yes, those immigrants include East Europeans, not just people from “alien” cultures), but he conveniently left out details and background information that give us a fuller understanding of the issues.

Image and icons by Amy Crone / Voice of San Diego

Image and icons by Amy Crone / Voice of San Diego

Converting Catholic churches in France into mosques

A good example of this kind of distortion is Orbán’s claim that the situation is already so bad in Europe that Muslims “openly proposed that the French state should hand them Christian churches because they would gladly convert them to mosques.” The implication is that the number of Muslims is so high that they are overtaking France’s Christian population. Well, the story sounds a little different once one takes a look at the media coverage of the case. Dalil Boubakeur, a French Muslim leader, called for “the country’s abandoned Catholic Churches to be turned into mosques.” The French Catholic Church in the last decade closed 60 churches for lack of worshippers. Although 64% of the population describe themselves as Catholic, only about 4.5% (1.9 million) of them regularly attend services. There is a shortage of mosques, and Muslims often have to worship on the streets when the time comes for their prayers. Christian leaders earlier supported Boubakeur’s call for more places of worship. The head of the French Catholic Church only a few months ago told the media that “Muslims should, like Christians and Jews, be able to practice their religion.” There is nothing strange in that. Not too far from where I live a former Hungarian Catholic church is now a day care center and a Presbyterian church was converted into a synagogue.

Immigrant crime in Italy and the Scandinavian countries

To show how dangerous the immigrant population is, Viktor Orbán gave the example of Italy, where, according to him, one-quarter of the crimes that occurred in 2012 were committed by foreigners.

Italy is not the best example to illustrate the alleged gravity of the situation. In fact, it is something of an aberration in Europe, as can be seen from the fact that Italian prisons are extremely overcrowded. Officially prison facilities could house 45,000 men and women, but today 67,000 inmates are crowded into these buildings. A case related to overcrowding reached the European Court of Human Rights, which ordered the government to pay €100,000 to seven inmates who brought the test case. In Italy many people are being jailed for minor crimes. Sixty percent of the inmates are sentenced for less than three years. Thirty-eight percent of all inmates are drug offenders (14% in Germany and France and 15% in England and Wales). The Italian situation is also peculiar due to the inordinate number (42%) of pre-trial detainees (versus a European average of 28.5%). It is true that a large number of the prisoners are foreigners, but these people don’t come exclusively from Africa or the Middle East. A lot of Romanians and Bulgarians entered Italy in the last few years. Currently, there are about 150,000 Gypsies in Italy, largely from Romania, and their relations with the Italians are not free of friction.

Since Orbán also talked about the criminal behavior of foreigners in Sweden, I highly recommend a study published recently on “Immigrants in Norway, Sweden and Denmark” by the Norwegian Bureau of Statistics. After reading this excellent article, one realizes the absurdity of the picture Viktor Orbán paints of Africans raping blonde Swedish girls right and left.

Swedish law doesn’t allow the publication of detailed lists of inmates by nationality, but we know that the percentage of foreigners in the prison population is high in both Norway and Sweden: around 32-33%. And Norway’s detailed statistics about foreign nationals in prison are available. First of all, we are talking about very small numbers. In Norway there are only 3,842 inmates altogether, out of whom the highest number of foreigners (155) are from Poland. Lithuania and Romania follow, with 131 and 128  There are 56 Somalis;  47 each from Sweden, Iraq, and Albania; and 22 each from Denmark and Germany. From the data given in “Immigrants in Norway, Sweden and Denmark,” the ethnic backgrounds of Swedish prisoners are most likely very similar to the Norwegian ones. Both countries suggested at one point that perhaps these inmates could serve their jail terms in their countries of origin. Therefore, I suspect that the vast majority of inmates in both of these countries are not from war-torn parts of the Middle East or Africa.

Definition of rape in Sweden

Comparative criminal statistics are full of pitfalls due to the divergence among judicial systems, laws, levels of law enforcement, and a willingness to report crimes, especially when it comes to rape.

I think I should quote verbatim the passage in which Viktor Orbán brought up the high number of rape cases in Sweden.

And finally we should say a few words about something one should be bashfully silent about on account of political correctness. According to western police statistics, where large numbers of illegal migrants live the rate of criminality drastically rises, and proportionally with it the security of the citizens decreases. I will give you a few thought-provoking examples. According to the statistics of the UN–not the Hungarian government’s, but the United Nations’s–as far as rape cases are concerned, Sweden is in second place right after the South-African Lesotho.

Indeed, a frequently cited source when comparing Swedish rape statistics internationally is the regularly published report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, based on official statistics provided by each member state. The Office itself calls for caution when dealing with these comparative statistics. In Sweden’s case there is a broader definition of what constitutes rape than in most countries, but the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention claims that discrepancies in definitions of rape between Sweden and other countries can be mitigated by the results of yearly surveys conducted by Statistics Sweden. Here are some of the questions from the surveys: “Were you threatened last year in such a way that you were frightened?” “Are you anxious about crime in society?””What is the extent of your confidence in the way the police carry out their work?” According to criminologists, these surveys are better indicators of the level of criminal activities in a given country than the police reports submitted by the member countries to the UN’s Office on Drugs and Crime. On the basis of these surveys coming from ten different European countries, it can be safely said that “Sweden does not top the list.” In fact, it stands “around the average mark, which is also the case for assaults and threats, despite the fact that compared to other countries, we have many such crimes reported.”

It is almost certain that Sweden’s broader definition of rape is responsible for the high numbers reported to the United Nations. Rape cases have been on the rise since 2005, when Sweden reformed its sex crime legislation. In addition, the Swedish police have improved the handling of rape cases in an effort to decrease the number of unreported cases. Sweden’s statistics simply cannot be compared to those of Lesotho. In fact, a European Union survey on sexual violence against women, published by the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention in 2014, placed Sweden below Denmark and Finland.

I might add that according to the Hungarian Central Statistical Office, in 2013 70,326 men and women were found guilty of crimes. By the fall of 2014, 18,439 people were behind bars. Italy with a population of 60 million has 67,000 inmates, while Hungary with 10 million has almost 20,000. It looks as if Hungary does not need immigrants to compete with Italy when it comes to crime and punishment. So much for Viktor Orbán’s attempt to causally link immigration and crime.