MANILA: The Philippines is turning to high-tech defense systems including facial-recognition software and bigger drones to combat terrorism.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has revealed government plans to boost the country’s technological capabilities as part of counterterrorism efforts.
“We are looking at facial-recognition software so that we can easily track down the bad guys,” Lorenzana said in an interview on Tuesday.
The Philippines army has bought ScanEagle drones from the US for use in low-altitude surveillance. US forces stationed in Mindanao are also using small drones with powerful signaling capabilities, he said.
“When our order for bigger drones arrives, it will improve our intelligence capabilities,” he said.
Lorenzana said extremists were also using sophisticated technologies to spread propaganda and gain an advantage in clashes with government forces.
The defense chief said that during the five-month battle in Marawi last year, militants had used drones, which were shot down by Philippine troops.
Terrorists were using technology for recruitment, to plan their movements and to send money.
“During the Marawi siege, my people recommended that we shut down the Internet there because the Mautes inside were sending pictures and messages outside,” he said, referring to the Daesh-inspired group that staged the attack.
Lorenzana agreed that intelligence capabilities “are only as good as the people who manage them and who interpret the data.
“We still need human intelligence, people who go down and see things on the ground with their own eyes and feel what’s happening on the ground so they can report to headquarters,” he said.
The interview with Lorenzana took place in Singapore on the sidelines of the 17th Shangri-La Dialogue, Asia’s leading defense summit.
International security consultant Stephen Cutler praised the Philippine defense department’s plan to upgrade its tech capabilities.
Facial-recognition systems were being used in other countries and were highly effective, he said.
“Say they get pictures of these (militants) with Daesh flags. Even if they’re wearing a bandana across their nose and lower face, facial recognition could theoretically allow us (to identify them). If those guys have already been arrested, we could run a still photo of that camp in the picture (or video) and figure out who’s in the camp.”
Cutler was chief of the Federal Bureau of Investigation operations in the Philippines for five years before retiring after a 22-year career in FBI.
He warned that the government had to establish trust among people that its technology was not being abused.
“That would demand strong adherence to data privacy law. It will demand proven ethical behavior on the part of the government.
“This is an argument that has gone on in every nation around the world that is using this (technology),” he said.