World Why unchecked snooping threatens India's democracy
The political crisis in Tunisia, explained by an expert
The Arab Spring’s democratic success story is under threat.Over the weekend, President Kais Saied fired the country’s prime minister and suspended Parliament in what his political opponents have called a coup. But he says the move was justified after thousands of Tunisians took to the streets in recent days to protest the government’s handling of the pandemic, which has deepened the country’s economic woes.
"You feel violated, there's no doubt about it," said Siddharth Varadarajan, co-founder of The Wire, a nonprofit news and opinion website in India.
"This is an incredible intrusion," he said. "Nobody should have to deal with this."
Mr Varadarajan, according to media reports, is one of the activists, journalists, politicians and lawyers around the world that have been targeted with phone spyware sold to governments by an Israeli firm. Of a leaked database of 50,000 numbers of interest to the firm's clients, more than 300 reportedly belong to Indians, according to.
Modi rival demands India inquiry into Pegasus claims
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's main political rival Rahul Gandhi on Friday demanded an inquiry into the Pegasus spyware scandal, accusing the government of "treason". Gandhi is one of dozens of Indian politicians, journalists and government critics on an alleged global database of 50,000 possible Pegasus spying targets that was revealed by an international group of media outlets. The Indian government has rejected spying claims although critics note it has not said whether it is a client of NSO Group, the Israeli maker of the Pegasus spyware which effectively captures a target's cellphone.
The Wire was one of 16 international media outlets which investigated the leaked list and the use of Pegasus spyware.
This is not the first time Pegasus, which can infect smartphones without users' knowledge and access virtually all their data, and which is made by the Israeli software firm NSO Group, has been linked to the targeting of journalists and human rights activists.
In 2019, there was outrage in India and other countries after WhatsApp confirmed that some of its users were targeted with spyware. A total offrom India, including activists, scholars and journalists, were affected by the breach. This, experts said, suggested the involvement of state agencies in India. (WhatsApp sued NSO, alleging the company was behind cyber-attacks on 1,400 mobile phones involving Pegasus.)
Bess: No pressure on me against India
England bowler Dom Bess is excited to have another opportunity to face India but has insisted he will not put pressure on himself during the upcoming Test series. The Yorkshire spinner was included in a 17-man squad earlier this month for the first two matches of the five-Test series against a side which beat Joe Root's men 3-1 back at the start of the year in the sub-continent.
To be sure, it is still not clear where the new leaked list came from, who ordered the hack or how many phones had actually been hacked.
Now, as in 2019, NSO has denied any wrongdoing, saying the allegations had no "factual basis" and were "far from reality". A spokesperson for the firm told the BBC: "We will continue to investigate all credible claims of misuse and take appropriate action based on the results of these investigations".
Similarly, India's Narendra Modi-led government has again denied accusations of any unauthorised surveillance. Phones can be tapped in India "in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India" and only on the orders from the senior-most official in charge of the home affairs ministry in the federal and state governments. "But the processes of such authorisation have never been clear," Manoj Joshi, a fellow of the Delhi-based think tank Observer Research Foundation, said.
South Africa’s unrest and the ANC’s many failings
For years, the governing party has used immigrants as scapegoats instead of addressing socioeconomic woes.One month later, the country descended into mass unrest, looting, arson and violence that destroyed thousands of businesses and led to 212 deaths. It is not the first time South Africa experiences such upheaval and one has to wonder why its head of state got invited to make a “token” appearance at a gathering of the world’s top wealthiest nations, when clearly things are not “pretty good”.
During a parliament debate on the breach in 2019, opposition MP KK Ragesh posed a number of pointed questions to the government: How did the Pegasus spyware come to India? Why were people "fighting against the government" targeted? How can one believe that the government has no role to play in bringing the software for snooping on political leaders in the country?" (NSO says it sells its technologies solely to law enforcement and intelligence agencies of "vetted governments" for the sole purpose of saving lives and preventing criminal and terror acts.)
Some 10 agencies in India are authorised to wiretap legally. The most powerful of them is the 134-year-old Intelligence Bureau, the country's largest and most powerful intelligence service with wide-ranging powers.
Apart from surveillance on threats from terrorism, it conducts background checks on candidates for high office, like judges; and surveys, as one expert said, "political life and elections".
The intelligence agencies have a chequered history. Federal and state governments of all political hues appear to have used them to snoop on their opponents, and their own.
Star's COVID-19 positive rocks India's tour of England
India wicketkeeper-batsman Rishabh Pant has tested positive to COVID-19 as his side zeroes in on an England Test series.The India camp, led by captain Virat Kohli, is currently in London but about to enter a bio-security bubble and set off for a tour match in Durham.
In 1988, the chief minister of Karnataka Ramakrishna Hedge quit after allegations that he ordered phone taps on at least 50 of his colleagues and rivals. In 1990, Chandra Shekhar, who later briefly became prime minister, alleged that the then Congress-led government was illegally tapping phones of 27 politicians, including his own.
In 2010, 100 tapes of phone conversations between corporate lobbyist Niira Radia and leading politicians, industrialists and journalists recorded by tax investigators were leaked to the media. The then main opposition leader LK Advani remarked that the recordings reminded him of the Watergate scandal.
"What has now changed is the scale, speed and discreteness with which electronic surveillance is being done on those who dissent," Rohini Lakshane, technologist and public policy researcher, said.
Unlike the US, India has no special courts that authorise surveillance by state agencies. Former federal minister and MP Manish Tewari has unsuccessfully tried to introduce a private member's bill in parliament to regulate the functioning and use of power by India's intelligence agencies. "There is no oversight of the agencies who are snooping on citizens. The time for such a law has come," Mr Tewari - who will reintroduce the bill in the ongoing session of the parliament - said
Hong Kong broadcaster forbids Taiwan 'government' references
Hong Kong's public broadcaster has banned staff from calling Taiwan's leader "president" or referring to its "government" in new guidelines that mimic mainland China's rhetoric. The memo said staff were now banned from using "inappropriate" terms such as "Taiwan's president" or the "Taiwan government" in all radio, television and online output. "Inappropriate terminology such as 'country', 'Republic of China', 'ROC'... must not be used when referring to Taiwan. Under no circumstances should Taiwan be referred to as a sovereign state or perceived as one," it added.
The latest episode, according to Ms Lakshane, points to the "scale and extent of electronic surveillance by the government and the lack of safeguards against such snooping". India, she said, was in "dire need of surveillance reform".
Parliament is likely to be roiled this week by this controversy. It is a good time to ask hard questions. What happens to intercepted data after it is used? Where is it stored and who exactly in the government has access to it? Does anyone outside government agencies have access to it? What are the digital security measures and safeguards?
Read more stories by Soutik Biswas
Blinken in India for talks dominated by Afghan turmoil, China .
Top US diplomat Antony Blinken arrived Tuesday in India for talks dominated by turmoil in Afghanistan and common worries about China, while also touching on New Delhi's rights record. The talks in a monsoon-soaked New Delhi will also touch on joint efforts on making Covid-19 vaccines, climate change and, according to US officials, India's recent human rights record.Blinken, in his first India visit as secretary of state, was due to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar on Wednesday before flying to Kuwait.