Terror in Europe

New Security Measures In French Schools May Be Going Too Far

Since the Nov. 13 terror attacks in Paris, reams of new government safety measures and orders have been issued to schools, where teachers say the atmosphere is tense and their responsibilities overwhelming.

School time in France
School time in France
Aurélie Collas

PARIS â€" Since the Nov. 13 terror attacks in Paris, French schools have changed. Before entering, everyone's identity and bags are systematically checked. Students and parents can no longer linger, or park, outside the main entrances. Before the Christmas holidays, all pupils had to take part in two security exercises: a fire drill and a "lockdown" scenario.

All these measures are part of a stream of orders given since the November attacks. A new memorandum, released on Dec. 17, completed the arsenal of preparations. Written by the ministries of national education and of the interior, it has planned, among other things, first aid "awareness" courses for teachers, pupils and their families starting in February.

Boards of education will be required to establish "crisis management units" and must take an inventory of the cellphone numbers of the school principals in order to be able to warn them in real-time during crisis situations.

Specific threat

In the weeks to come, there will be new measures to protect "particularly vulnerable areas" at schools. In Paris, authorities may soon develop "assault warning buttons," video-protection installations, double-door entrances or protective windows.

The increased measures follow an ISIS death threat to teachers in the terrorist organization's online magazine at the end of November, and explicit requests from parents groups for added security.

Still, there are doubts within schools about whether all this is feasible. "Since the attacks, authorities have been putting pressure on us," says the head teacher of a school in the 11th arrondissement of Paris. "It's hard to live with at school because it creates a tense atmosphere. We're always on the lookout for new alerts."

Sébastien Shir, secretary general of the main teachers' union for grammar schools, says that the feeling is widespread. "Schools have received ministerial memos, departmental memos, administrative memos, each one taking the measures up a notch, as if everyone wanted to protect themselves (from criticism)," he says. The union estimates that the head teacher of a school in the Hauts-de-Seine department, near Paris, has received 150 pages of instructions since the attacks.

In some departments, the ministerial order to carry out "random" checks on bags at school entrances has evolved into an obligation to check all bags. In others, even parents of kindergarteners are no longer allowed to walk with their children into the school, instead required to drop them off outside the entrance.

"The difficulty is reconciling security and school culture, which is supposed to be a welcoming and open place," Shir says. "Principals and teachers aren't security agents. Everything cannot rest on their shoulders."

Under desks

In some places, parents have complained about the security exercises police have ordered. In Yohan's Paris school (his name has been changed), where he is in the first grade, the exercise lasted 15 minutes. In the classroom, with the lights off and complete silence, the pupils stayed down on the floor under their desks. "With a teacher telling them, "If ever terrorists enter the school… "" the mother of the young boy says. She was troubled when her son came home and told her that he was "scared they'll kick the door in and kill us."

The outraged mother says, "I'm stunned by the complete lack of perspective from the teacher."

This type of exercise isn't new and was originally meant to protect students from various potential events: storms, floods or industrial accidents. But since Nov. 13, the "attack or exterior intrusion" risk has been added to the list. Many head teachers make sure they adapt what they tell students to the age of the children.

One head teacher didn't want to include the children in the exercise. "I only held a meeting with the teachers and reminded everybody of their duties," she says. "The pupils are already affected by what happened, and I preferred not overdoing it."

Philippe Tournier, the secretary general of SNPDEN, a principals' union, says no measure will enable schools to cope with such extreme situations. "Except surrounding schools with fortifications and sandbags."

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Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money but the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.

Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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