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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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When Ontario declared a COVID-19 health emergency last spring, the first instinct of Ottawa entrepreneur Peter O’Blenis was to preserve cash.

“We basically stopped our discretionary spending,” said O’Blenis, the co-founder and CEO of Evidence Partners, which makes software for accelerating the review of scientific and medical literature, using artificial intelligence. “We cut investments in things meant to help us grow.”

It was a defensive posture born of experience. O’Blenis had 12 years earlier nearly been crushed by the global financial crisis. Another looked to be on the way.

In 2008, O’Blenis and his colleagues, Jonathan Barker and Ian Stefanison, hit a brick wall with their first venture, TrialStat, which helped hospitals manage patients’ electronic data. While TrialStat had secured $5.5 million in venture financing just a couple of years earlier, the founders had burned through most of it during a rapid expansion. When the financial world collapsed, so did their firm.

The trio played things far more conservatively with Evidence Partners, which has relied almost exclusively on customer revenues to finance expansion.

The caution proved unnecessary. Like so many other businesses, O’Blenis underestimated the government’s willingness to keep the economy afloat with easy money. Nor did he anticipate that COVID-19 would prove a significant catalyst for the firm’s revenues so soon.

Evidence Partners is hardly the only local firm with technology particularly suited for the war against COVID-19. Spartan Bioscience and DNA Genotek adapted existing products to create technology for identifying the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. Ottawa-based units of Abbott Laboratories and Siemens Healthineers make portable blood analyzers that diagnose patients afflicted by the virus.

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Shepherds of Good Hope wants to expand ByWard Market operation with eight-storey housing complex

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The Shepherds of Good Hope plans to build an eight-storey building near its current shelter for the homeless in the ByWard Market that would include supportive housing for up to 48 people, a soup kitchen and a drop-in centre.

The organization says it wants to be part of the solution to the housing crisis that has fuelled a rise in homelessness in Ottawa.

People would be moved out of the emergency shelters and into their own tiny apartments in the complex, which would include a communal dining hall and staff available to help with mental health, addiction and medical problems, said Caroline Cox, senior manager of communications for the Shepherds.

Some residents in the neighbourhood are opposed, saying services for the homeless and vulnerable should not be concentrated in one area of the city.

“I was flabbergasted,” said homeowner Brian Nolan, who lives one block from the development proposed for 216 Murray St., where currently a one-story building houses offices for the Shepherds of Good Hope.

Nolan said that, in the 15 years he’s lived in the area, it has become increasingly unsafe, with home and car thefts, drug dealing, loitering, aggressive and erratic behaviour, urinating, defecating and vomiting on sidewalks and yards and sexual acts conducted in public on his dead-end street. Before he lets his son play basketball in the yard, he checks the ground for needles and his home security camera to see who is nearby.

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Carleton University Hosts the Forum Lecture: Towards a Feminist Post-COVID City

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evehe Carleton University Forum Lecture: Towards a Feminist Post-COVID City given by Leslie Kern launches Ottawa Architecture Week. Urban geographer, author and academic, Kern will discuss how the pandemic has highlighted long-standing inequalities in the design, use and inclusivity of urban spaces. The talk will share some of the core principles behind a feminist urban vision to inform a wider vision of justice, equity and sustainability.

When
: Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021 at 6:30 p.m.
Registration: https://alumni.carleton.ca/event-registration-architecture-forum-series-with-leslie-kern-2/.

About the Speaker

Kern holds a PhD in Women’s Studies from York University. She is currently an associate professor of Geography and Environment and director of Women’s and Gender Studies at Mount Allison University.

Kern is the author of two books on gender and cities, including Feminist City: Claiming Space in a Man-Made World (Verso). The book discusses how our cities have failed in terms of fear, motherhood, friendship, activism, the joy and perils of being alone, and also imagines what they could become.

Kern argues, “The pandemic has shown us that society can be radically reorganized if necessary. Let’s carry that lesson into creating the non-sexist city.”

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