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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 families give mixed reviews for online schooling

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So, how’s it going with online school? Families reached by CBC Ottawa seem to have mixed reviews. 

Masuma Khan is a mother of two. Her seven-year-old, Hana Wyndham in Grade 2, is attending French immersion virtual school. Masuma is grateful it’s an option, but can’t help notice a lot of down time.

“There’s a lot of, ‘are you on mute?’ In terms of the amount of learning that’s actually happening, it does seem to be not that high,” said Masuma.

Parents who kept their children at home this fall are in the minority, but they still form a significant chunk of families in Ottawa.

In the city’s largest school board, the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB), about 27 per cent of elementary students and 22 per cent of high school students chose online learning. The Ottawa Catholic School Board says roughly a quarter of its students are online.

For Masuma, the decision to keep her daughter home was complex: extended family members are immunocompromised and she worried the in-person learning environment would be unpleasant because of precautions. She also felt her daughter might benefit from being supported at home.

“She doesn’t necessarily enjoy school. I also found out during the pandemic that she was being bullied [last year],” said Masuma. “So I thought, why not try from home?”

To help her daughter socialize face-to-face with other kids, Masuma enrolled Hana in Baxter Forest School, an alternative education program where kids spend most of their time outside, one day a week. Hana also attends virtual Arabic classes two days a week after school. 

Masuma’s husband and Hana share the living room work space, and Masuma admits he does the lion’s share of helping their daughter stay on task. There is a possibility that he’ll be required to return to his office in the new year.

“When he goes back to work … it’s probably going to be a little bit more difficult.”

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No school closures after Christmas holiday break, says Ontario education minister

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Ontario elementary and secondary schools will not close for an extended winter break, says Education Minister Stephen Lecce.

Closures aren’t needed given Ontario’s “strong safety protocols, low levels of (COVID-19) transmission and safety within our schools,” Lecce announced Wednesday afternoon. He said he had consulted with Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams and the province’s public health measures advisory table.

That ended speculation about school buildings remaining closed in January for a period of time after the Christmas break.

Earlier in the week, Lecce told reporters the government was considering having students spend “some period out of class” in January, perhaps switching to online learning.

In a statement, Lecce said that even though rates of community transmission of COVID-19 are increasing, “schools have been remarkably successful at minimizing outbreaks to ensure that our kids stay safe and learning in their classrooms.”

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Windy start to the week in Ottawa

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OTTAWA — It’s a blustery Monday in the capital with wind gusts of up to 50 km/hour expected throughout the day.

Environment Canada is forecasting a high of 4 C with a 60 per cent chance of showers or flurries before the wind dies down later this evening.

There’s a chance of flurries on Tuesday as well with a high of -1 C. The overnight low will dip to an unseasonal -9 C.  

Wednesday’s high will be just -5 C with lots of sunshine.

Seasonal temperatures return for the rest of the week..

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