eyes on the U.S.

How The War Against Terrorism Has Become An Assault On Citizens

We are well past the tipping point, where governments are violating privacy and limiting the people's rights in the name of some faceless enemy.

luggage has become a national security issue
luggage has become a national security issue
José Fernando Isaza


BOGOTA- Many security measures at airports have become counterproductive, managing to improve security only marginally while significantly harming those the measures are ostensibly meant to protect. And government surveillance of citizens has spiraled out of control.

In the war on terrorism, in other words, we have reached a point of diminishing returns.

Consider airport scanners, for example. General knowledge says that the radiation received from them is about equal to the cosmic radiation to which travelers are exposed during one commercial flight. It is not clear whether it is similar to the ultraviolet radiation received without protection at that altitude. The scanners use ionizing X-ray radiation, and the duration of a security check is generally longer than that of a radiography. These devices are not as aggressive as a CT scan, but they are stronger than an X-ray. In the end, these measures put our health at risk and violate privacy in the name of protection.

If the authorities' response to the terrorist attacks on trains and subways in Europe were similar to the paranoid U.S. response, these modes of transportation would have collapsed by now and taken the economy with it, even before the economic crisis hit.

At least in Colombian airports, some of the security protocols seem designed to be contradictory. Security personnel will remove your nail clippers from hand baggage, then the flight crew will serve meals with metal cutlery. And in our day-to-day lives, we have become accustomed to feeling as if we're entering a high-security prison when going to virtually any public or private building, or worse, a university.

And what is the psychological and economic cost for citizens who know that their private or business conversations are being "monitored"? How can we be assured that these private exchanges won't be used as privileged information or be turned against us?

In a column last July, I mentioned the U.S. project to create a center that stores all the information generated from any part of the world. It seems as though, at least according to Edward Snowden, this project is advancing.

From Colombia to Russia

How can we guarantee that in Colombia, for example, the National Police Intelligence operates under different standards? On the one hand, the government requested telecommunications companies to "facilitate" interceptions through a decree issued 10 months ago. On the other, we are only learning about this now.

Another example can be found in the movie The Fourth State, a film based on actual events and directed by Dennis Gansel. It describes how some of the terrorist acts in Russia attributed to the Chechens were in fact executed by dark forces within the secret service. These were later used to justify "anti-terrorist" legislation.

The fear of terrorism inspires an excuse for governments to limit citizen rights and to approve legislation that violates privacy and the presumption of innocence. In the war against terrorism, it seems the citizens are losing and authoritarianism is winning.

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How China Flipped From Tech Copycat To Tech Leader

Long perceived as a country chasing Western tech, China's business and technological innovations are now influencing the rest of the world. Still lagging on some fronts, the future is now up for grabs.

At the World Semiconductor Conference in Nanjing, China, on June 9

Emmanuel Grasland

BEIJING — China's tech tycoons have fallen out of favor: Jack Ma (Alibaba), Colin Huang (Pinduoduo), Richard Liu (Tencent) and Zhang Yiming (ByteDance) have all been pressured by Beijing to leave their jobs or step back from a public role. Their time may be coming to an end, but the legacy remains exceptional. Under their reign, China has become a veritable window to the global future of technology.

TikTok is the perfect example. Launched in 2016, the video messaging app has been downloaded over two billion times worldwide. It has passed the 100-million active user mark in the United States. Thanks to TikTok's success, ByteDance, its parent company, has reached an exceptional level of influence on the internet.

For a long time, the West viewed China's digital ecosystem as a cheap imitation of Silicon Valley. The European and American media described the giants of the Asian superpower as the "Chinese Google" or "Chinese Amazon." But the tables have turned.

No Western equivalent to WeChat

The Asian superpower has forged cutting-edge business models that do not exist elsewhere. It is impossible to find a Western equivalent to the WeChat super-app (1.2 billion users), which is used for shopping as much as for making a medical appointment or obtaining credit.

The flow of innovation is now changing direction.

The roles have actually reversed: In a recent article, Les Echos describes the California-based social network IRL, as a "WeChat of the Western world."

Grégory Boutté, digital and customer relations director at the multinational luxury group Kering, explains, "The Chinese digital ecosystem is incredibly different, and its speed of evolution is impressive. Above all, the flow of innovation is now changing direction."

This is illustrated by the recent creation of "live shopping" events in France, which are hosted by celebrities and taken from a concept already popular in China.

10,000 new startups per day

There is an explosion of this phenomenon in the digital sphere. Rachel Daydou, Partner & China General Manager of the consulting firm Fabernovel in Shanghai, says, "With Libra, Facebook is trying to create a financial entity based on social media, just as WeChat did with WeChat Pay. Facebook Shop looks suspiciously like WeChat's mini-programs. Amazon Live is inspired by Taobao Live and YouTube Shopping by Douyin, the Chinese equivalent of TikTok."

In China, it is possible to go to fully robotized restaurants or to give a panhandler some change via mobile payment. Your wallet is destined to be obsolete because your phone can read restaurant menus and pay for your meal via a QR Code.

The country uses shared mobile chargers the way Europeans use bicycles, and is already testing electric car battery swap stations to avoid 30 minutes of recharging time.

Michael David, chief omnichannel director at LVMH, says, "The Chinese ecosystem is permanently bubbling with innovation. About 10,000 start-ups are created every day in the country."

China is also the most advanced country in the electric car market. With 370 models at the end of 2020, it had an offering that was almost twice as large as Europe's, according to the International Energy Agency.

Photo of a phone's screen displaying the logo of \u200bChina's super-app WeChat

China's super-app WeChat

Omar Marques/SOPA Images/ZUMA

The whole market runs on tech

Luca de Meo, CEO of French automaker Renault, said in June that China is "ahead of Europe in many areas, whether it's electric cars, connectivity or autonomous driving. You have to be there to know what's going on."

As a market, China is also a source of technological inspiration for Western companies, a world leader in e-commerce, solar, mobile payments, digital currency and facial recognition. It has the largest 5G network, with more than one million antennas up and running, compared to 400,000 in Europe.

Self-driving cars offer an interesting point of divergence between China and the West.

Just take the number of connected devices (1.1 billion), the time spent on mobile (six hours per day) and, above all, the magnitude of data collected to deploy and improve artificial intelligence algorithms faster than in Europe or the United States.

The groundbreaking field of self-driving cars offers an interesting point of divergence between China and the West. Artificial intelligence guru Kai-Fu Lee explains that China believes that we should teach the highway to speak to the car, imagining new services and rethinking cities to avoid cars crossing pedestrians, while the West does not intend to go that far.

Still lagging in some key sectors

There are areas where China is still struggling, such as semiconductors. Despite a production increase of nearly 50% per year, the country produces less than 40% of the chips it consumes, according to official data. This dependence threatens its ambitions in artificial intelligence, telecoms and autonomous vehicles. Chinese manufacturers work with an engraving fineness of 28 nm or more, far from those of Intel, Samsung or TSMC. They are unable to produce processors for high-performance PCs.

China's aerospace industry is also lagging behind the West. There are also no Chinese players among the top 20 life science companies on the stock market and there are doubts surrounding the efficacy of Sinovac and Sinopharm's COVID-19 vaccines. As of 2019, the country files more patents per year than the U.S., but far fewer are converted into marketable products.

Beijing knows its weaknesses and is working to eliminate them. Adopted in March, the nation's 14th five-year plan calls for a 7% annual increase in R&D spending between now and 2025, compared with 12% under the previous plan. Big data aside, that is basic math anyone can understand.

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