Thursday, July 30, 2020

With a new Anti-Terror Act: Philippines take another step towards authoritarianism

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Vanshita Banuana

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With a new Anti-Terror Act: Philippines take another step towards authoritarianism

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Global Views 360

Publication Date

July 30, 2020

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President Duterte addressing the 18th Congress

President Duterte addressing the 18th Congress | Source: Oliver Marquez via Philippine News Agency

On July 3, 2020, President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte signed a new Anti-Terrorism Bill, which was rushed through the houses of Congress without appropriate discussion, and has amassed protests and disapproval within the nation and abroad since its draft was first announced.

The Confederation of Lawyers in Asia and Pacific (COLAP) has raised concerns that anti-terrorism bill of the Philippine government is “violative of human rights and the due process of the law.” It's statement opposing the the bill stated following concerns with the bill:

  1. It punishes suspected individuals for organizations who are proscribed as terrorists and that the very broad and vague definition of terrorism under the bill poses danger to the basic freedoms of the people.
  2. The suspect’s right to due process of law is virtually denied and the presumption of innocence until proven guilty by a court is virtually negated.
  3. It enable the President-backed Anti-Terrorism Council to label any individual or group as a terrorist “without the opportunity of being heard.
  4. Any member or sympathizer of a proscribed organization is punished as a terrorist even if he or she does not actually take arms against the government.
  5. The bill encroaches on one’s privacy as it gives the government access to personal and bank information and freezes bank accounts and assets.
  6. The bill violates the sovereign rights of states and the internationally mandated norm that criminal jurisdiction is confined to the territories of a state, citing its extraterritorial nature.

Hundreds of protestors took to the streets of Manila protesting the bill on 27th July when President Duterte gave his annual State of the Nation address. While it is true that the has nation faced the threat of terrorism in recent years, it is also agreed upon that Duterte’s response has been perhaps equally brutal.

This bill was also criticised by the Christian religious organisations which issued a joint declaration on this law. They stated “We are bothered by the broad and vague definition of terrorism and terrorist. It can include acts of dissent, free speech, right to assemble, right to organize, freedom of belief, among others. By such a broad definition it is open to abuse and misuse.”

An opposition Congress member, Edcel Lagman and two lawyer groups of Philippine approached the Philippine Supreme Court and asked it to strike down the new anti-terrorism law, or parts of it, as they called it unconstitutional for infringing on civil liberties.

The Philipino American Student Association (FASA) also denounced the new anti-terrorism law in its Instagram post which stated, “FASA sa UW denounces Duterte’s signing of the Anti-Terrorism Bill to which its terms do nothing to resolve the true terrorism in our nation and instead conducts an outright assault on the freedom of speech from our people living on the motherland and even Filipinx abroad,”

International Human Right organisation, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Regional Director, Nicholas Bequelin, in response to this law said, “Under Duterte’s presidency, even the mildest government critics can be labelled terrorists. He further stated, “This law’s introduction is the latest example of the country’s ever-worsening human rights record. Once again, this shows why the UN should launch a formal investigation into ongoing widespread and systematic violations in the country.”

Prior to this, Duterte’s ‘war on drugs’ received global scrutiny, especially for the numerous extrajudicial killings that have occurred since he came to power and the effect of this aggressive policy on the poorest citizens of the nation.

Apart from this, he has also repeatedly voiced opinions in favour of martial law and silenced news media that spoke against him. But he seems to be encouraged largely by his own people, among whom Duterte continues to be popular.

Many have called Duterte the ‘revival’ of authoritarianism in the small Southeast Asian country, which has only recently seen some semblance of democracy after years of dictatorship under Ferdinand Marcos (of whom Duterte was a close family friend).

The Philippines is walking a thin line between fascism and democracy, and which side it ends up on depends not only on the actions of its government, but just as much on the actions of its people.

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April 13, 2021 2:10 PM

Detecting The Ultra-High Energy Cosmic Rays With Smartphones

Smartphones have become the most commonplace objects in our daily lives. The unimaginable power that we hold in our hands is unrealized by most of us and, more importantly, untapped. Its creativity often gets misused but one can only hope that it’s fascinating abilities would be utilized. For example, did you know that the millions of phones around the globe can be connected to form a particle detector? The following article covers the CRAYFIS (Cosmic RAYs Found in Smartphones) phone-based application developed by the physicists from the University of California—Daniel Whiteson, Michael Mulhearn, and their team. CRAYFIS aims to take advantage of the large network of smartphones around the world and detect the cosmic or gamma rays bursts which enter the Earth’s atmosphere almost constantly.

What Are Cosmic Rays?

Cosmic rays are high velocity subatomic particles bombarding the Earth’s upper atmosphere continuously. Cosmic ray bursts have the highest energy compared to all forms of electro-magnetic radiation. When we say ultra-high energy particles (energy more than 1018^eV), we mean two million times more energetic than the ones that can be produced by the particle colliders on Earth.  These rays are thought to be more powerful than typical supernovae and can release trillions of times more energy than the Sun. They are also highly unpredictable as they can enter Earth’s atmosphere from any direction and the bursts can last for any period of time ranging from a few thousand seconds to several minutes.

Despite many theoretical hypotheses, the sources of these ultra-high energy cosmic rays are still a mystery to us even after many decades of their discovery. These rays were initially discovered in the 1960’s by the U.S. military when they were doing background checks for gamma rays after nuclear weapon testing. Cosmologists suggest that these bursts could be the result of super massive stars collapsing - leading to hypernova; or can be retraced to collisions of black holes with other black holes or neutron stars.

How Do We Detect Them?

When the high-energy particles collide with the Earth’s atmosphere, the air and the gas molecules cause them to break apart and create massive showers of relatively low-energy particles. Aurora borealis i.e., the Northern and the Southern lights are the lights that are emitted when these cosmic rays interact with the Earth’s magnetic field. Currently, these particles are hitting the Earth at a rate of about one per square meter per second. The showers get scattered to a radius of one or two kilometers consisting mostly of high-energy photons, electrons, positrons and muons. But the fact that these particles can hit the Earth anytime and anywhere is where the problem arises. Since the Earth has a massive area, it is not possible to place a detector everywhere and catch them at the exact moment.

Energetic charged particles known as cosmic rays hit our atmosphere, where they collide with air molecules to produce a shower of secondary particle | Source: CERN

Detecting such a shower requires a very big telescope, which logically means a network of individual particle detectors distributed over a mile or two-wide radius and connected to each other. The Pierre Auger Observatory in South America is the only such arrangement where 1,600 particle detectors have been scattered on 3,000 square kilometers of land. But the construction cost of the same was about $100 million. Yet, only a few cosmic ray particles could be detected using this arrangement. How do we spread this network around the Earth?

In addition to being cost-effective, such a setup must also be feasible. The Earth’s surface cannot possibly be dotted with particle detectors which cost huge fortunes. This is where smartphones come into the picture.

Detecting The Particles Using Smartphones

Smartphones are the most appropriate devices required to solve the problem. They have planet wide coverage, are affordable by most people and are being actively used by more than 1.5 billion users around the planet. Individually, these devices are low and inefficient; but a considerably dense network of such devices can give us a chance to detect cosmic ray showers belonging to the highest energy range.

Previous research has shown that smartphones have the capability of detecting ionizing radiation. The camera is the most sensitive part of the smartphone and is just the device required to meet our expectations. A CMOS (Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor) device is present in the camera- in which silicon photodiode pixels produce electron-hole pairs when struck by visible photons (when photons are detected by the CMOS device, it leaves traces of weakly activated pixels). The incoming rays are also laced with other noises and interference from the surroundings.  Although these devices are made to detect visible light, they still have the capability of detecting higher-energy photons and also low-ionizing particles such as the muons.

A screenshot from the app which shows the exposure time, the events- the number of particles recorded and other properties

To avoid normal light, the CRAYFIS application is to be run during nighttime with the camera facing down. As the phone processor runs the application it collects data from its surroundings using a camera as its detector element. The megapixel images (i.e., the incoming particles) are scanned at a speed of 5 to 15 frames per second, depending on the frame-processing speed of the device. Scientists expect that signals from the cosmic rays would occur rarely, i.e., around one in 500 frames. Also, there is the job of removing background data. An algorithm was created to tune the incoming particle shower by setting a threshold frequency at around 0.1 frames per second. Frames containing pixels above the threshold are stored and passed to the second stage which examines the stored frames, saving only the pixels above a second, lower threshold.

The CRAYFIS app is designed to run when the phone is not being used and when it is connected to a power source. The actual performance would be widely affected by the geometry of the smartphone’s camera and the conditions in which the data is being collected. Further, once the application is installed and is in the operating mode, no participation is required from the user, which is required to achieve wide-scale participation. When a Wifi connection is available the collected data would be uploaded to the central server so that it could be interpreted.

There is much complicated math used to trace back the information collected from the application. The most important parameters for the app are the local density of incoming particles, the detection area of the phone and the particle identification efficiency. These parameters are used to find the mean number of candidates (photons or muons) being detected. Further, the probability that a phone will detect no candidates or the probability that a phone will detect one or more candidates is given by Poisson distribution. The density of the shower is directly proportional to the incident particle energy with a distribution in x and y sensitive to the direction in which the particle came from. An Unbinned Likelihood (it is the probability of obtaining a certain data- in this case the distribution of the cosmic rays including their energy and direction, the obtained data is arranged into bins which are very, very small) analysis is used to determine the incident particle energy and direction. To eliminate background interference, a benchmark requirement has been set that at least 5 phones must detect and register a hit to be considered as a candidate.

It is impossible to express just how mind-blowing this innovation is. As the days pass, Science and Technology around us keep on surprising us and challenge us to rack our brains for more and more unique ways to deal with complex problems. The CRAYFIS app is simply beautiful and it would be a dream-come-true to the scientists if the project works out and we are able to detect these high energy, super intimidating cosmic rays with smartphones from our backyard.

Further Reading

The paper by Daniel Whiteson and team can be found here.

An exciting book “We Have No Idea” by Daniel Whiteson and cartoonist Jorge Cham can be found here.

The CRAYFIS app can be found here.

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