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India: Opponents say Modi creating surveillance state | News

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Several Indian government agencies have been armed with sweeping powers to intercept, monitor and decrypt information from any computer in the country, a move that critics say aims to make India the next “Big Brother state”.

After India’s Home Ministry issued a notification on Thursday authorising 10 agencies with the power to tap, intercept and decrypt all personal data on computers and networks in India, opposition parties said the government is attempting to create a “surveillance state”.

Among the agencies that are now enabled to exercise these snooping powers are the Research and Analysis Wing, the main foreign-intelligence gathering body, and the Intelligence Bureau report directly to the Prime Minister’s Office.

Congress party chief Rahul Gandhi said this move showed Prime Minister Narendra Modi is “an insecure dictator”.

India’s Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said the move will help track “terrorists”.

“How else will terrorists who use technology extensively be traced? Otherwise, the terrorists will use IT, but the intelligence and investigative agencies will be crippled,” Jaitley tweeted.

‘No safeguards’

Privacy advocates argue that widespread government surveillance of this kind will have a “chilling effect” on democratic debate and dissent. In the world’s largest democracy, data security and privacy regulations are still to be framed.

Even though the orders are supposed to target everyone, most analysts say they could possibly be used to crackdown on critics, rights campaigners and political opponents ahead of a general election that’s slated early next year.

“This would make data collection from critics and political opponents easier. This will facilitate targeted raids against the opposition and critics. In its ambition, this is similar to America’s spy programme PRISM. Indians need to press for surveillance reform urgently to protect us from a police state,” Srinivas Kodali, an independent security researcher in Hyderabad, told Al Jazeera.

Interception of phone calls was already authorized for certain federal agencies under India’s Telecom Act.

The absence of any oversight mechanism for such interception by federal agencies gives them untrammeled power, according to some analysts.

“This notification gives powers to a host of agencies with minimal oversight. There are no safeguards as to how this collected data will be dealt with, so concerns of civil society are not unwarranted. Governments once they are given unbridled power of this kind, end up almost routinely abusing it,” Sanjay Hegde, a supreme court lawyer, told Al Jazeera.

Indian intelligence agencies report straight to the prime minister and the home minister without any parliamentary or judicial oversight. On Friday opposition parties disrupted parliament, asking questions about the new notification.

Social media sites were also abuzz with criticism against the government move. While the Internet Freedom Foundation of India posted a “red alert” about the notification, a security researcher, who tweets under the pseudonym Elliot Alderson, described it as “a sad day for India”.

Right to privacy

In 2017, India’s Supreme Court unanimously ruled that individual privacy is a fundamental right, a verdict that should have a significant bearing on civil rights.

On the question of whether Thursday’s notification would withstand legal scrutiny, lawyer Hegde said “courts often tend to duck these problems involving technology when faced with a broad spectrum challenge”.

“But a particular individual whose privacy is compromised can go to court and challenge this notification,” he said.

“It does not square with the recent right to privacy ruling of the top court but very often when questions of national security are used to defend anything, the court gives greater deference to government claims than to individual rights,” he added.

The rightwing BJP government said the new powers would help to protect the country against “terrorists” and other “national security threats”. But critics say the absence of requisite oversights only heightens fears about its intentions.






India’s ‘Aadhaar’ database and the challenges of reporting it | The Listening Post

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Ottawa transit commission hopes to prioritize COVID-19 vaccines for OC Transpo workers

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Ottawa’s transit commission is pushing local and provincial health officials to recognize the role OC Transpo operators have played in keeping the city running during the COVID-19 pandemic, hoping to bump train and bus drivers in the vaccination queue amid a recent surge in coronavirus infections affecting transit workers.

More than 100 OC Transpo staff across the entire organization have tested positive for the coronavirus since the start of the pandemic, according to an update at Wednesday morning’s transit commission meeting.

Of those cases, 26 employees are currently recovering from the disease in self-isolation.

OC Transpo has seen a recent jump in COVID-19 cases, with Ottawa city council receiving reports of eight operators testing positive for the virus over a recent eight-day period.

Transit commissioner Sarah Wright-Gilbert attempted to find out how many of the total cases are traced to workplace transmission, but OC Transpo boss John Manconi said he’s been advised by medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches that he can’t share that information for privacy reasons.

Transit operators are listed in the second priority group of essential workers as part of Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccine sequencing plans, but several commissioners speaking Wednesday wanted to get the city’s bus and train drivers bumped higher in the order.

Councillors Riley Brockington and Glen Gower both put forward motions looking to get front-line OC Transpo employees prioritization in vaccine sequencing, but others pointed out that the much-debated public health topic of who gets the vaccine and when is well beyond the scope of the transit commission.

“We are not in a position in transit commission to be decreeing, or making an edict, about what group of essential workers is more at risk than others and should be prioritized. That should be left up to public health experts,” Wright-Gilbert said.

Knoxdale-Merivale Coun. Keith Egli, who also chairs the Ottawa Board of Health, reflected on the board’s four-plus-hour meeting on Monday evening, during which vaccine sequencing and prioritizing essential workers dominated the conversation.

“Vaccine sequencing is obviously a very difficult maze to get through,” he said.

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COVID-19: Ottawa police announce end of 24-7 presence at Ontario-Quebec border

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Less than two days after the Ontario government’s latest COVID-19 restrictions came into effect, calling for non-essential traffic to be stopped at the province’s borders with Quebec and Manitoba, the Ottawa Police Service has announced it is stopping its 24-hour checkpoints.

According to a statement issued by the service Tuesday evening, the around-the-clock border checkpoints were set to end as of 8 p.m. on Tuesday in favour of rotating checkpoints across the city throughout the day until Ontario’s temporary regulations end.

“Since the onset of the border operations, the OPS has been working closely with Ottawa Public Health (OPH) along with local stakeholders and interprovincial stakeholders (the City of Ottawa, the City of Gatineau, the Ontario Provincial Police etc.) to assess any local public health, traffic and safety impacts. The assessment resulted in today’s operational changes,” the statement said.

“The operational changes announced today are designed to better ensure the health and safety of all, to minimize delays and/or hazards for travellers and to ensure essential workers can get to their places of employment on time.”

The statement also said the police service, while working to comply with the provincial order, was focused on education and enforcement actions that “support improved public health outcomes and respect the concerns of our most marginalized and racialized communities”

Officers said they will be conducting daily assessments on border crossings and that there could be further changes.

In a statement to Global News, a spokesperson for Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said that the border closures are ultimately subject to the discretion of local police enforcing the regulations.

“Local police services are best positioned to determine the operational deployments necessary to ensure the continued safety of their communities,” the spokesperson said, noting that the order’s regulations still apply to individuals entering the province.

The temporary order restricts Quebec residents from entering Ontario. If prompted, individuals must stop when directed by an enforcement officials and provide their reason for entering the province.

The main exemptions to the restrictions include if the person’s main home is in the province, if they work in Ontario, if they’re transporting goods, if they’re exercising Indigenous or treaty rights, if they need health care or if there’s a basis on compassionate grounds.

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COVID-19 vaccines in Ottawa: Nearly half of all residents in their 60s have at least one dose

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OTTAWA — Ottawa Public Health’s latest COVID-19 vaccination update shows that nearly half of all residents 60 to 69 years old have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, a figure that has all but doubled in the past week.

OPH’s COVID-19 vaccination dashboard shows 58,000 residents 60 to 69 have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, accounting for 49.3 per cent of that age group’s population in Ottawa. Last Wednesday, OPH reported 30,000 residents 60 to 69 had had at least one dose, which was 25.4 per cent.

As age demographics get younger, the population grows larger and the coverage by percentage may appear to grow more slowly, even if clinics are vaccinating greater numbers of people. For example, the latest figures show that 83 per cent of people aged 70 to 79 have had at least one dose. By raw population that’s 60,000 people, only slightly higher than half of all people in their 60s.

Vaccinations are open through the Ontario portal to anyone 60 and older and, this week, the AstraZeneca vaccine was approved for administration at pharmacies and primary care clinics to anyone in Ontario 40 and older.

OPH reported a new shipment this week of 25,740 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. To date, Ottawa has received 305,130 doses of COVID-19 vaccines from the provincial government.

The number of eligible residents (i.e. 16 and older) with at least one dose of a vaccine is now up to 28 per cent.

Tuesday was Ottawa’s second-busiest day for vaccinations overall, with the OPH reporting 9,729 shots administered. Last Friday saw 9,887 shots administered in a single day.

QUICK STATS

  • Ottawa residents with at least one dose: 248,668
  • Ottawa residents with two doses: 26,722
  • Percent of eligible population (residents 16 and older) with at least one dose: 28 per cent
  • Percent of eligible population (residents 16 and older) with two doses: 3 per cent
  • Percent of total population with at least one dose: 24 per cent
  • Percent of total population with two doses: 3 per cent

VACCINATION COVERAGE BY AGE FOR OTTAWA RESIDENTS WITH AT LEAST ONE DOSE

  • 10-19: 1.6 per cent (1,804 people)
  • 20-29: 8.3 per cent (13,452 people)
  • 30-39: 9.5 per cent (14,999 people)
  • 40-49: 12.9 per cent (17,350 people)
  • 50-59: 28.8 per cent (40,320 people)
  • 60-69: 49.3 per cent (58,627 people)
  • 70-79: 82.9 per cent (62,808 people)
  • 80-89: 87.5 per cent (29,358 people)
  • 90+: 89.2 per cent (7,893 people)
  • Unknown age: 2,057 people 

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