How an avowedly “nationalist” government allows India to be digitally colonized by US and China

By Raghav Bahl – With great gusto, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had promised to convert our country into a digital superpower, a Start-up India that would reconfigure the world with its tech smarts and savvy.

According to Bob van Dijk, CEO of Naspers (Africa’s biggest company, a media and internet conglomerate that is also the largest investor in China’s Tencent), “India needs to make sure that it builds an ecosystem for the success of local businesses. If I am blunt about it, I think Europe is a digital colony of the US. There’s no decision making in search, content, social or video, which basically means there is no ecosystem of capable internet entrepreneurs or professionals … if I were your prime minister, I would have that bent of mind.”

Yes! Just as Chambal dacoits looted central India in the 1970s/80s, Shenzhen and Silicon Valley dacoits are savaging our digital landscape in the 21st century. We have already resigned ourselves to the astonishing dominance of Google and Facebook, without even a shrug of resistance. These American titans take nearly 90% of all digital ad dollars from India. They own the digital identities of over a billion Indians. They know what we search, buy, whom we date, where we live, what politics we follow, what we say, think, and everything we do!

It’s a shame that this is happening on an avowedly “nationalist” government’s beat. more>

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Why godmen become omnipotent, and their followers so impotent

By Sudhir Kakar – Barring a small minority of atheists and doubters, for most people this higher reality is the dispenser of religious-spiritual moments that, in the words of the poet John Keats, “light up the narrow, mundane world of daily existence, a world which has always been inadequate to our experience and unequal to bear the burden of our hopes.”

The godman is believed to be in intimate contact with ‘higher’ reality and has the power to make it accessible to his followers. He or she (for this also holds true for the godwoman) is the culturally sanctioned addressee of an ancient civilizational longing, a collective request for the transforming experience.

His reputed ability to induce euphoric states in the follower carries a conviction of his divinity that is impervious to skepticism and disbelief. The follower cannot be shaken out of his belief in the godman with appeals to reason or evidence, answering anyone who would doubt with, “I don’t believe, I know.”

As much as he offers empowerment through identification with himself and his sect, it is a rare godman who does not come to misuse the power granted to him by his followers. This has nothing to do with a particular godman’s goodness or villainy but is inherent in the institution itself. Idealism by followers (“You are great! You are perfect!”), a godman must process the idealization internally and not start believing them.

One consequence of these positive idealizations is a loss of touch with the reality of everyday life and the context in which the idealizations are embedded. more>

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One Asaram in jail is not enough, it’s time to smoke out all fraud babas

By Shobhaa De – Why are we so bloody gullible? Such monumental idiots?

Why do we need self-styled godmen and godwomen in India?

Most of them are crooks and liars. Murderers and deviants. But we refuse to see through them. We refuse to accept they are out to loot, fool and deceive us.

Even a casual survey will reveal the organised deception that creates these monsters.

Any man or woman who claims a superior spiritual status is an impostor. Anyone who insists he/she has a hotline to God, is clearly a cheat. Anyone who offers to save someone’s soul, is out to financially/emotionally exploit the victim. Anyone who tries to manipulate human frailties and comes up with instant solutions, is talking hogwash. Unfortunately, a lot of that hogwash gets transformed into faux ‘wisdom’ by the media.

The vulnerable fall for the slick hardsell, and overnight spiritual empires get born. Take a look at the egos and assets of the current crop of gurus. Look at their vanities and posturing, their arrogance and intolerance. You call these people ‘spiritually evolved’?

Let’s call them charlatans. Scratch the surface and see what they are made of – don’t be surprised to find nothing more than hot air and bombast. And yet, they continue to flourish and thrive, propped up by their influential mentors and political bosses.

It’s time for India to smoke out all these frauds. There are too many of them preying on suckers/ believers blinded by their so-called ‘powers’ and promises to save humanity.

The power to save yourself wholly, solely and only lies within each one of us. Let’s drive these pretenders out of business and then watch the fun. more>

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Aadhaar is meandering in a legal maze

By A L I Chougule – Since July 2017, privacy has been at the center of Aadhaar debate. According to legal experts, there are three aspects to privacy issue: bodily integrity, information privacy and threat of state surveillance.

Whether the act of collecting finger prints and iris scans violates the bodily integrity of citizens, and therefore, the fundamental right to privacy is an important question before the SC.

Equally crucial argument is whether the Aadhaar Act violates the right to informational self-determination or informational privacy.

An important aspect of informational privacy is whether citizens know what exactly is happening with their personal information and the manner in which the information shall be used. The third and forceful aspect of the privacy argument is that Aadhaar will enable the State to mount constant surveillance on citizens.

Apart from privacy issue, the necessity to have an Aadhaar card to avail benefits or otherwise is also a subject of litigious debate. In an attempt to make the Aadhaar an all-encompassing identity for authentication, the government has lately been adding a slew of welfare schemes and services to Aadhaar. The government has also made Aadhaar necessary for filing income tax returns.

However, the apex court’s order of October 15, 2015, said that Aadhaar cannot be made mandatory for welfare schemes.

The court has restricted the voluntary use of the card to six schemes and prohibited the government from making it mandatory for receiving any other benefit or service.

The SC has consistently maintained that Aadhaar is voluntary and not mandatory and there is no compulsion to submit it for availing services.

To start with, the Aadhaar project was introduced as an optional 12-digit identification tool in January 2009. The optional nature of Aadhaar had come up for discussion when the National Identification Authority of India Bill, 2010, was introduced in parliament by UPA-2 government.

The bill was referred to the standing committee on finance which raised concerns over Aadhaar’s security by giving an example of an ID project in the UK which was later abandoned due to high cost, untested technology and the ‘changing relationship between the state and citizens’.

In response to the committee’s concerns, the government stated that while the UK ID card was mandatory, Aadhaar number is not mandatory. The government also clarified that the main aim of Aadhaar ‘is to enhance the delivery of welfare benefits and services’.

Things took a different turn when the implementation of the project – in absence of a legislative backing – was challenged in the SC in November 2012. Since then, Aadhaar has remained mired in complex arguments in court. more>

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5-foot-thick wall does not ensure Aadhaar security

A primer on how data can and does get hacked
firstpost.com – Attorney-General KK Venugopal assured the judges that this was no fly-by-night operation and that Aadhaar data was secure behind walls that are 13-feet high and five-feet thick.

It’s at this point that questions need to be asked of Center’s — on whose behalf Venugopal was arguing the case — understanding of data, because comparisons with former I-T commissioner Vishwa Bandhu Gupta’s understanding of cloud computing come swiftly to mind.

The notion that data is some sort of physical commodity that can be physically safeguarded is a lot like being content with handing over your debit card and PIN to someone, safe in the knowledge that your cash is safely stored in a bank vault.

For breaching a database, you don’t need to be physically present around this so-called five-foot-thick wall. Accessing a database physically is just one method. But most of the sophisticated hack attacks take place remotely. You can hack a database remotely, from a different city, state, country or even continent. All you need is sophisticated software, hacking intelligence, an internet-connected machine and a vulnerability to exploit. No thick door or high wall can prevent a data breach if these four requirements are met.

One of the most common loopholes that can make databases vulnerable is having a weak link in the human chain of command. You may have the best of security suites to protect your database, but if the right security protocols and processes aren’t followed, there is nothing the world’s best security suite can do to protect your data. more>

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Negotiating With Power?

By Santosh Desai – The is the reason why filing a First Information Report in India is so difficult; the possibility of a negotiated settlement often takes precedence over the application of the law.

Power when dangled over these situations has a way of pushing those involved towards a negotiated understanding; not surprisingly, the powerful and connected have the upper hand in such a situation.

The preservation of status quo in an environment of rules requires both an exaggerated formalization of rules as well as a great willingness to bend these in order to get a desired outcome. The apparent intractability of the rules is used as an incentive nudging those involved towards a negotiated settlement.

The success of this gambit depends on the ability to move dramatically between a position that argues that the rules are completely fixed to one that allows for complete flexibility just this once.

The use of power to cement existing reality rather than to alter it seems to be the motivation at work here. In theory, rules are rules, and everyone is equal in the eyes of the law, no matter who is involved. In practice, this is far from being the case.

For starters, rules in India are constructed so that in many cases, it is virtually impossible to implement them blindly, so complex, onerous and far removed from reality are they. This makes rules contingent by necessity; and it is this flexibility in the application of rules that creates both corruption as well helps move things along.

But above all, it keeps a form of social order intact. The legislative and administrative systems in India are subservient to the social ecosystem, and work within its ambit. Power thus becomes a social instrument that needs to be brokered keeping the dominant interests in mind. The disinterested application of the law is not possible in a context where these interests take priority. Hierarchies are respected, networks are nurtured, money speaks loudly, and settlements are negotiated.

The idea of the ‘settlement’ which finds a measure of mutual self-interest being catered to is only thinly related to abstract notions of justice. The poor and weak ‘accept’ an unfair resolution because the alternative is much worse.

What are otherwise their rights become favors that they seek from the powerful for a price. The powerful build constituencies by creating a cumbersome system and then offering a way to navigate the same. more>

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Junk today’s secularism

India needs a reinvented secularism 2.0 rooted in separation of religion and state
By Bhanu Dhamija – India’s ambitious experiment with freedom of religion has failed. Our insipid brand of secularism, based on states’ active engagement amid stated religious neutrality, has led to the appeasement of a few, but empowers none and brings injustice for all. Instead of uniting our society, it has fomented fragmentation and alienation among our diverse religious communities.

The Hindu majority has now risen against years of over-accommodation of the Muslim minority. This puts the country at risk of losing its tolerant and pluralistic democracy.

India today desperately needs a new definition of secularism, one based on freedom of religion, equality before law, and separation of religion and state. All of these requirements are essential for secularism to work in any country.

Indian secularism fails because it allows governments to grant religious freedoms, but not to treat religions equally.

The biggest failure in this regard began in the early years of the republic, when the government codified Hindu social customs into law but allowed Muslims to continue practicing Sharia law. For seven decades, the requirement of a uniform civil code has remained a Directive Principle in India’s Constitution.

Without constitutional restrictions on state sponsorship of religious activities, Indian secularism turned into a carte blanche for governments to do as they pleased. They began exploiting religious communities with special treatment, sops and populist slogans.

Today, the Modi wave among the Hindu majority has shattered the Nehruvian concept of secularism. And for good reasons; Nehru’s approach was impractical in its denial of all communal identities, and it was open to abuse by governments.

Now the majority is flexing its muscle and taking revenge for years of minority appeasement. This makes it all the more necessary that India adopt real secularism, lest the pendulum swing too far, and allow Hindu chauvinism to take over India’s democracy. more> https://goo.gl/reCSRz

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Forthcoming Supreme Court decision on right to privacy one of the most important legal decisions in the world this year

By Eben Moglen and Mishi Choudhary – Arguments before a nine-judge constitutional bench of the Supreme Court, which is at long last deciding whether Indian citizens have a fundamental right to privacy, have established two realities clearly.

First, the judges see the profound importance of any decision to create such a fundamental right. Second, they would like to know just what the outlines of this right should be.

Privacy is, as Brandeis and Warren said in 1894, “the right most valued by civilized men,” “the right to be left alone.”

But in our age, the age of the internet, the right to be left alone includes also the right not to be put out there, or exposed involuntarily. Forced disclosure of the information that comprises our identities, in the age of biometric identification, social profiles, and cashless economic transactions, damages an essential component of all personal liberties.

Whether the individual’s information is used on its own, or is analyzed, profiled, or linked in the “social graph” to that of other related persons, forced disclosure of personal information in today’s society creates power in the state which receives that information.

The importance of a fundamental right in our system is that it can only be enforced against the state. “Platform” social media companies receive voluntary disclosures of personal information in immense quantities every minute, but they are not subject to constitutional controls.

Moreover, though these corporates are indeed ubiquitous in our lives, they are not obligatory. In dealing with them, we still have choices. Only the power of the state can, in fact, compel us to expose ourselves more fully than we choose to do. The state can as well, of course, legislate to protect our privacy against private parties, and should do so.

India will, as a result of the Supreme Court’s judgment, take the lead among democracies in recognizing and enforcing its citizens’ fundamental right to privacy, or fall in line behind despotic societies in destroying it. more> https://goo.gl/WXWbzf

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Preserve privacy

Threats to privacy have snowballed in the digital era, SC must act
Times of India – The creation of a nine-judge Supreme Court bench to decide whether right to privacy is a fundamental right focuses attention on an issue of critical importance in a digital era.

The right to privacy is not explicitly mentioned in the Constitution but Article 21 guaranteeing the protection of life and personal liberty does encompass various aspects of privacy.

Categorizing privacy as a fundamental right will grant it constitutional sanctity, and by implication, greater respect and compliance. But the government has opposed this classification citing two SC judgments, delivered in 1954 and 1962 that rejected a “fundamental right to privacy.”

Strong legal safeguards are needed against unauthorised access of databases and retention of data, data theft, and leak of private information.

The mushrooming of Aadhaar – initially pitched as a system to aid welfare transfers by eliminating impersonation and pilferage – into a Sisyphean identification system dictating every aspect of a citizen’s life is a valid cause for concern.

Similarly, SC is also hearing a petition questioning midstream changes in WhatsApp’s privacy policy that allowed it to share user data with its parent company Facebook.

Government mustn’t fear privacy. Making it a fundamental right will give governments, businesses and courts a definitive framework to facilitate Digital India. more> https://goo.gl/ogZrii

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Can India be First World?

We dream of leapfrogging to First World status, here’s how to do it in real life
By Sanjeev Sabhlok – What will it take for India to become a First World nation?

Such a question is about matters more important than mere economic growth.

It is about freedom, rule of law, justice, separation of religion and state. Such a question can reset our expectations and start a meaningful conversation about what we want to be as a nation.

It is time for us as a nation to step back and look at the big picture. The facts that face us are not pleasant.

Transparency International has ranked Indian governments as the most corrupt in the Asia-Pacific region. Our businesses, despite being one of the world’s best, continue to be let down by our governance system. We continue to rank close to the bottom on ease of doing business. We remain one of the least free countries in the world.

We do not protect private property. We do not have credible rule of law. The concept of justice is largely fictitious. There is very little infrastructure. Our school systems are dysfunctional. Vocational training is non-existent or of very low quality. And we continue to be one of the world’s poorest countries.

Second, we need to redesign our governance system. Today, neither ministers nor bureaucrats are accountable. They see themselves as rulers. We need to invert this mindset and hold our servant – the government – to account.

No First World country has India’s antediluvian, super-centralized IAS-type tenured service to govern everything. more> https://goo.gl/kjrftm

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