Category Archives: International

Does technology help create an Orwellian world?

NSA PRISM scandalAs more and more secrets tumble out of the recent surveillance gathering scandal in the USA and also considering how various governments, including India, are constantly working towards curbing freedom of speech and monitoring your communications, are we moving towards the ideal Orwellian world? In George Orwell’s 1984 the big brother is constantly watching you using whatever means are available at that time.

These days almost all our communication happens digitally. We are constantly making phone calls, publishing status updates, uploading videos and images and interacting with friends and family on the Internet. We interact less with people around us and more with people in the virtual world. We provide ample data to tell the interested people what we think, what ideologies we believe in, what are our political opinions, which schools and colleges our kids go to, what products and services we spend our money on and where our loyalties and interests lie.

Personally I believe most of the people don’t even understand the implications, especially when it comes to countries like India where the government can be extremely repressive without even anybody realizing it. Just imagine if you can be arrested for having a political opinion. Imagine being hounded by criminals simply because you comment on rising incidence of crime in your area. Imagine policemen knocking at your door in the dead of the night simply because you believe there is an active police-criminal nexus and you let it be known on your timeline.

Through your ISPs and other web services, they can easily find out where you live. Even the presence of a mobile phone in your pocket can let the interested people know where you are right now and track you. Your TV set top box tells interested parties which channel you’re watching most of the time and for how long you watch. Even when you skip ads, they know it.

Less connected world of course had its own problems but it also made difficult the misuse of access to massive amounts of data. The problem with most of the surveillance is that it rarely captures the intended people – terrorists and underworld operatives – and it is the common folks that become the target. A small business owner in one of the southern states said something about P Chidambram’s son and got himself arrested in a matter of a day simply because they were able to trace his whereabouts without much fuss. Even right now, every single tweet, every single Facebook update and blog post is being monitored: even this one.

You may also like to read NSA surveillance puts George Orwell’s 1984 on bestseller list.

Why were the Italian Marines forced to come back to India

Recently the Italians cocked a snook at the Indian government by refusing to send back the Italian Marines who are accused of murdering two Indian fishermen in the Indian Ocean. These Marines have already had a very easy go. First they were allowed to attend Christmas at their native Italian places, and then they were allowed to go back to their country to cast votes. It is also rumored that the families of the murdered fisherman have been given Rs. 1 crore each to bury the hatchet and let the Marines go.

Call it political compulsions or whatever, the case has attained national, and now international highlight. On top of that, the recent stunt pulled by the Italian government even got the European Union involved. Anyway, this is not the point.

According to the grapevine on Twitter and other social networking websites, the escape of the Italian Marines was planned in full connivance of the Indian government that too has its own Italian connections. The plan was, on one pretext or another, the Marines would be allowed to leave the country, and in protest, the government would expel the Italian ambassador under whose guarantee the Marines had been allowed to go. Under a seemingly well thought of plan, the Marines were first allowed to leave fully according to the Indian law, and then later on the Italian government sent a note varbale that the two will not be coming back as the Indian courts had no jurisdiction over the case. Not even in their dreams they had thought about the juggernaut called Subramanian Swamy.

Contrary to what the Indian External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshied is saying – that it was the diplomatic efforts that changed Italy’s posturing – it was Subramanian Swamy who swiftly got into action and requested the Supreme Court to stop the Italian ambassador from leaving the country under any situation. All the airports in the country were instructed to look out for the Italian ambassador Daniele Mancini, who had given the assurance that the Marines would be back on time. So it was the arm-twisting that actually worked. Unless the Marines were sent back, the Italian ambassador could not leave the country, and since the press was (yes, our system is such that, a semblance of press still exists) closely following the case, unlike the infamous Mr. Q, the Indian government couldn’t felicitate his escape.

It was not Sonia Gandhi’s “tough stand”. It was not MMS’s “unacceptable” filibustering. It was the quick action by Mr. Swamy who forced the Italian government to send the Marines back.


Having a dialog with the Taliban is useless

The recent beheading of 17 people for participating in a dance party has again proven that the Taliban is not an ideological entity, it is a civilizational fault. Their brutalities have no parallel in the contemporary history. They don’t need a civil unrest, they don’t even need a war to behead people or stone them to death. You just have to differ with them. It doesn’t matter whether you are an Afghan or a foreigner, whether you are a brother or a stranger, or whether you are a mother, wife or daughter — do something they don’t approve of and you don’t just die, you die a horrible death. For them it’s our way or no way.

So even a semblance of a dialogue with them sends a wrong message not just to them, but also to their victims and their kin. When you try to talk to them in a sense you accept their existence, and to an extent, their way of life (if you call it a way of life). They no longer remain an aberration. They become just another warring side, which, in reality, they are not. It is a force from a darker history of our world that, unfortunately, has either survived, or have somehow, resurrected itself like an evil spirit.

I must correct myself: if you remember those Rocky movies (Sylvester Stallone) the US military used to abet the Talibanese to build up resistance against the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. So basically it’s a Frankenstein’s monster brought to life by the good old America.

The Taliban and its adherents have totally twisted Islam to suit their diabolical philosophy of zero tolerance. According to their Islam, there is no mercy for the nonconformists, there is no freedom for the women and art and entertainment are the pursuits of the kafirs and hence, deserve severest of exemplary punishments.

It’s basically a religious racket orchestrated and perpetrated to wield all-encompassing power over those under their control. Beheading people for dancing and other entertainments doesn’t mean strict Talibanis live very austere lives. Far from that; they rape and plunder with impunity. They abduct women and keep them as their sex slaves. They usurp properties . They carry out vindictive acts. Their chiefs live lavish lifestyles. The entire charade is maintained to allocate unquestionable power to a select few. You don’t deal with racketeers like warring parties. They are criminals that need to be smoked out and eliminated.

Should governments get access to Twitter data?

Initially when I had thought of the topic my immediate reply was “no”, but then I thought as an identity, as an entity, what is Twitter and how much independence it should get when it comes to adhering to various regulations? The problem with Twitter is that although it is a US-based company its users come from all over the world and it has become a platform of freedom of speech and expression. Since I’m not an expert on IT laws and also international laws, I am a bit confused here. When we post on Twitter, are be governed by US laws (because Twitter, I think, operates under US laws) or our individual laws are applicable? For instance, if I’m using Twitter from India, is it Indian laws I abide by or US laws? Take for instance a car; even if it is manufactured in the US, if it has been sold in India and the person is driving it around on Indian roads, he or she has to abide by the Indian traffic rules.

In a recent judgment Twitter has been ordered to turn over data on WikiLeaks supporters by a US district judge. What if some of the backers belong to other countries? Do they become criminals if the US authorities think that they used Twitter to exchange and disseminate “harmful” information? What if I, while living in India, helped WikiLeaks in a manner objectionable to the US law authorities?

Using a real example, what if the Libyan government asked Twitter to share information on people helping the rebels? Would the company comply? What about China? Yes, Google and other companies comply with local laws but what if they reveal the identity of some person and based on that revelation the person is executed by an authoritarian regime? As far as we know, the US begins to cry esoteric expressions like freedom of speech and privacy when it comes to other countries but when it comes to its own land all of a sudden it needs information even when that information is deemed private and confidential.

But then, is Twitter confidentially supreme even when it is being used by murderers, rapists and terrorists? Recently the British government asked Twitter and Facebook to help identify people who got involved in the riots. I don’t know whether Twitter and Facebook handed over the information or not, but logically, it should. Where do we draw the line then? Any country can say that they need information on criminals whether those Twitter users are criminals or not. What about political activists? Many activists prefer to remain anonymous to avoid persecution. There are many politically and socially active individuals on Twitter who are quite vocal and continuously talk against the government and at the same time have good jobs. If their identities are revealed they will not only be targeted by the authorities, they will also lose their jobs and even their careers. Anonymity, especially on the Internet, engenders unparalleled empowerment. You cannot directly confront people you oppose but you can surely spread your opinion unrestrained.

This is a debatable issue and as more and more such platforms evolve, such socio-legal issues will rise again and again. There is a difference between criminals (in the category of murderers, rapists, child abusers, psychopaths and religious fanatics) and political dissenters. There has to be an international consensus on how to deal with such people. Unless there is an international consensus, any government can force Twitter and other social networking platforms to reveal the identity of their users putting them in great peril. What do you think?

How to handle a regional bully like China

China has been a regional thorn for India ever since the 1962 war. India took a severe beating (due to Jawahar Lal Nehru’s shortsightedness and the foreign policy ridden with a personal agenda) in that war. India’s military power has improved tremendously since then, but obviously it cannot match China’s might due to its sheer size. China knows this.

Aside from repeatedly crossing the Indo-China border and carrying out various mischieves it has also started to meddle with India’s foreign policy vis-a-vis other regional countries like Taiwan, Vietnam, Korea, etc. The recent example is the indirect warning against India’s forays into oil exploration in the South China Sea in collaboration with Vietnam. According to India, ONGC-Videsh (ONGC’s overseas arm) is carrying out its operations fully in compliance with the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Seas.

This particular problem is not directly related to India because China considers the region being explored as a disputed territory and it is already embroiled in heated exchanges with countries like Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei. So India going ahead with collaborative oil exploration means Vietnam taking unilateral decision and asserting its right on the region.

Anyway, this is just one of the issues. China is a tough neighbour to handle. Beyond doubt it is a regional bully and to make the matters worse, it is not even a democracy. It is headed by a communist regime and most of its people (not everybody, understandably) support such a government. It has no interest in establishing and maintaining friendly ties with the country it looks down upon: India. India is an economic competition but more than that it is a nuisance for them simply due to some perverted habit. Pakistan’s hatred towards India can be defined on the canvas of religion and historical references, but China dislikes India just for the heck of it, it seems sometimes. Both the countries have enjoyed historical ties but something happened in 1962 and they were permanently broken.

So how should India handle a neighbour who is not interested in peace and who doesn’t respect you? China is almost double the size of India and nothing can be done about that and this is a reality we have to live with. It is economically stronger, militarily stronger and even its influence on the international politics is much greater than India. China is one of the biggest holders of US debt (the US public debt is 98% of its GDP). There is practically no country in the world that can directly challenge China or come to India’s support due to whatever reason.

I think we should learn a lesson from Pakistan. Despite being comparatively smaller and despite its economy being in total shambles, Pakistan has created a significant deterrence against India. Should India have more nuclear warheads with their nozzles pointing at China? I’m not a military strategist so I don’t know how much of it is going to be effective.

By nature India is not suicidal. India can obliterate Pakistan completely and in retaliation even Pakistan can cause lots of harm to India. In desperation Pakistanis will be okay with the fact that they will be completely destroyed as long as they can inflict a significant wound to India. India on the other hand cannot have similar approach towards China. The Chinese can completely finish off India and India can cause a significant damage to China. Being a country optimistic about its future India will never tread upon such a path.

Similarly, China will be ready to bear significant damage, just like Pakistan, if such a case scenario manifests, as long as it can incinerate the whole of India. As a layperson, I see this as a lose-lose situation. Both Pakistan and China can be reckless and this makes them more dangerous. The only saving grace in the case of Pakistan is perhaps India can contain it before it can launch its nuclear warheads.

Jingoism and filibustering is not going to help. This issue needs a long-term policy. Every problem has a solution and so must this one. I think if India can sort out its massive corruption it can invest a good chunk of that money in defence-related research and development. It desperately needs to upgrade its warheads – on the seas, in the skies and on the ground. It’s high time India stopped purchasing out-of-use or second-hand warheads and started developing its own, targeted versions.

The current political establishment is quite directionless as well as pussilanimous (but then how can you expect the corrupt to have a vision for the country?). People of this country must work towards completely changing the establishment and encouraging people who have a vision and direction. We must have a strong and well-defined foreign policy. We should clearly know how the government is going to respond to unfavourable overtures, physical as well as verbal. We are always reacting and even those reactions are not actually reactions but fumblings. Just like corruption, terrorism, price rise and religious/class conflicts we should choose political parties that have a clear foreign policy agendas. The next time your local politician comes to seek votes, ask him or her, how his or her party plans to handle China?

The solution to China-problem lies more with people of India than building a strong military deterrence (although that too is necessary, but it will happen gradually). China is a real problem gawking at us and challenging us, although we cannot see it directly or experience it immediately. It is like the bull in the china shop and you never know when it will turn violent.