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Analysis

Why TRAI chairman’s Aadhaar challenge is a case of ‘misplaced enthusiasm’

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New Delhi, July 30 : Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) Chairman R.S. Sharma’s open Aadhaar challenge to critics and hackers is nothing but a case of “misplaced enthusiasm” which dilutes the debate on securing the Aadhaar eco-system, emphasise cyber law experts.

Sharma, who made his 12-digit Aadhaar number open on July 28 and created a tweetstorm — not as a government servant but “as a normal citizen of India” — can set a dangerous precedent for millions of Indians who are still not aware what privacy is all about.

“Throwing such a challenge only shows misplaced enthusiasm. He is treading a dangerous path which can be detrimental in days to come as his personal and bank details are now out in the open,” Pavan Duggal, one of the leading cyber law experts in the country, told IANS.

What the TRAI Chairman has perhaps forgotten is that the central data repository at the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) may be secure, but several third-party vendors are now increasingly accepting Aadhaar as a key document — and that opens it up for misuse, especially given the weak cyber security laws in the country.

“Several FIRs have been lodged against Aadhaar misuse across the country. People’s confidence in Aadhaar is slowly being eroded and, at this juncture, rather than working extensively on securing Aadhaar, we see a top government official posting his Aadhaar number on Twitter,” Duggal lamented.

Ethical hackers have exposed at least 14 personal details of the TRAI chairman since he revealed his Aadhaar number — including mobile numbers, home address, date of birth (DoB), PAN number and voter ID, among others.

Ethical hackers can’t go beyond this as creating financial break-ins will land them in legal trouble.

“By the way, were you able to cause any harm to me, because now you know my Aadhaar number?” Sharma tweeted to a French security expert, who goes by the nickname Elliot Alderson and uses the twitter handle @fs0c131y, as his personal details began flying all over Twitter.

Alderson replied: “If your phone numbers, address, DoB, bank accounts and others personal details are easily found on the Internet you have no #privacy. End of the story.”

According to Duggal, personal privacy breach begins with the phone number and it is a tragedy that most Indians – unlike Europeans or Americans – are still not aware what exactly constitutes privacy.

“Your phone number (becoming public knowledge) is the first hint that your private space has been breached. Would you wait for hackers to clean up your bank accounts?” asked Duggal.

As part of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) that came into force from May 25, EU citizens may, at any point, object to an organisation’s handling of their personal data.

The regulation specifically names “direct marketing and profiling” as personal data uses to which individuals may object to.

The Justice B.N. Srikrishna Committee on data protection in India has also suggested amendments to the Aadhaar Act to provide for imposition of penalties on data fiduciaries and compensations to data principals for violations of the data protection law.

The 213-page report suggests amendments to the Aadhaar Act from a data protection perspective.

Jared Cohen, a former US State Department official and an expert on social media and cyber-crime issues, has also stressed there are serious concerns about the collection of biometric data for Aadhaar cards in India and these must be allayed.

“I don’t want to meddle in India’s politics. But there are concerns (about collection of personal details for Aadhaar card),” Cohen told an IANS correspondent on the sidelines of the third annual BCTECH Summit at Vancouver, Canada, in May.

Cohen, currently the CEO and Founder of Jigsaw, a Google arm started to tackle threats to online security, conceded there are arguments on the merits of the Aadhaar system but there are also concerns that must be addressed.

According to Duggal, “Not just cosmetic changes, there is an urgent need for addressing newly-emerging legal and cyber-security challenges concerning the Aadhaar ecosystem on an urgent basis.”

“There is a need for a more comprehensive legal framework to protect and preserve data and the privacy of individual Aadhaar account holders in particular, and the Aadhaar ecosystem stakeholders in general,” he noted.

(Nishant Arora can be contacted at [email protected])

Analysis

The US presidential elections and future of India-US relations

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Donald Trump Joe Biden

As the coronavirus pandemic dominates global news in the United States, progress toward the next presidential election scheduled to be held on November 3 moves slowly forward. President Donald Trump had no real opposition in the Republican party and is running for re-election. And it has now become apparent that former Vice President Joe Biden will be his opponent as the Democratic candidate for president.

What would a Trump victory bode for the future of US-India relations? What would a Biden victory bode? Let me answer each of those questions in turn.

Given the love fests of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Howdy Modi’ event in Houston, Texas, in which Trump participated in September of 2019, and Trump’s ‘Namaste Trump’ event hosted by Modi in India in February of this year, it might be assumed that the future for US-India relations is a splendid one. This would be an incorrect assumption.

Both of these events were more symbolic than substantive. Trump’s participation in them undoubtedly helped to persuade some — perhaps many — Indian American Modi supporters who voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 to cast their ballots for Trump in 2020. Trump’s campaign team took steps to ensure this by holding an event at his Mar-a-Lago resort in which a group of prominent Indian Americans announced their plans to work for his re-election and to mobilize Indian Americans on his behalf.

To understand the future potential of India’s relations with the US. with Trump as president, however, it is necessary to look beyond these political moves and to examine the present state of those relations and Trump’s personal style.

In a word, the best way to characterize the current relations between the US and India is “functional”. The relationship was relatively good for the first two years of Trump’s presidency. In fact, near the end of 2018, Alice Wells, the Acting Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, was quoted in the media s saying: “This has been a landmark year for US-India ties as we build out stronger relationships across the board.”

Then, in 2019, the relations went off the track in the first half of the year after the US and India got into a tit-for-tat tariff war after the US terminated India’s Generalized System of Preferences which allowed India to send certain goods to the US duty-free. There have been continuing efforts to structure a “modest” trade deal since then. It was thought there might be some type of deal done in September of 2019 while Modi was in the US by year’s end, and then during Trump’s India visit. But, as of today, there is still no deal.

This inability to get any meaningful trade agreement in place speaks volumes about India’s potential future relations with India with Trump as president. So, too does Trump’s style.

Trump’s campaign slogans this time around are “Keep America Great” and “Promises Made, Promises Kept.” Trump is not a policy wonk and most of his effort will go toward “America First”. This involves making the US more isolated by withdrawing from international agreements, restructuring trade agreements, emphasizing building walls to stop immigrants at the border, using tariffs to block trade with countries who are taking away American jobs, and confronting businesses who are allegedlly stealing American trade secrets.

This perspective suggests what India can expect for its relations with the US if it has to deal with Trump for a second term as president. The relations will stay functional at best. As I have said before, that’s because the words partnership, cooperation and collaboration are not in Trump’s vocabulary. Nationalism, isolationism and protectionism are.

Joe Biden stands in stark contrast to President Trump both professionally and personally. Biden is a strategic thinker and doer with a solid eight-year track record of leadership experience as Vice-President in forging alliances that have made a difference around the world and he has also been a long-standing friend of India.

He was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a leading advocate for the Congressional passage of the Indo-US civic nuclear deal in 2005. At a dinner convened 10 years later in 2015 by the Confederation of Indian Industry and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Vice President Biden discussed the tremendous joint progress that had been made by the two countries in the past and declared “We are on the cusp of a sea change decade.”

Early in his campaign for the Democratic nomination for president in July of 2019, in laying out his foreign policy vision, Biden stated that the US had to reach out to India and other Asian partners to strengthen ties with them. The items on Biden’s foreign policy agenda for strengthening which are of importance for India include climate change, nuclear proliferation and cyberwarfare.

During his vice presidency, Biden worked side by side with President Barack Obama to do things that would contribute to achieving Obama’s vision stated in 2010 of India and America being “indispensable partners in meeting the challenges of our time.” In 2020, those challenges are even greater than they were a decade ago.

That is why it is so essential that India and the US develop a strategic relationship that enables them to become those indispensable partners. That can happen if Biden assumes the presidency on January 20, 2021. It cannot happen if Donald Trump remains as president for a second term.

The results of this upcoming election in the US matter greatly for the future of the United States. They matter greatly for the future of India-US relations as well. Time and the American electorate will tell what that future will be.

(Frank F. Islam is an entrepreneur, civic and thought leader based in Washington DC. The views expressed here are personal)

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Analysis

Covid-19 toll across world crosses 35,000

The COVID-19 is affecting 132 countries and territories around the world.

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Patients infected with the novel coronavirus

New Delhi, March 30 : The death toll around the world due to coronavirus crossed 35,000 on Monday evening, with Italy heading the list of 35,097 deaths with 10,779, while the number of cumulative cases rose to 737,929, with US leading with 143,055 of them, as per data from the Johns Hopkins University’s Coronavirus Resource Centre.

Spain was second with 7,340 deaths, followed by China with 3,308 (3,186 of them in Hubei where the outbreak was first recorded), Iran with 2,757 deaths, France with 2,606 deaths, the US with 2,513 (776 of them in New York) and the UK with1,228 deaths.

In number of cases, Italy was second with 97,689, followed by Spain with 85,195, China with 82,198, Germany with 62,435, Iran with 41,495 and France with 40,747.

Meanwhile, 156,652 people around the world had recovered, with nearly half of them (75,923) in China, followed by 16,780 in Spain, 13,911 in Iran and 13,030 in Italy.

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Analysis

45% of Indians do not back up their data, files: Survey

The survey was conducted among 728 Avast and AVG users between February 20-March 25.

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Data Privacy

New Delhi, March 30 : Nearly half of Indians do not back up because they think their data or files are not important enough and most of those who back up their data, do it once a month, a survey said on Monday.

Other reasons cited by the respondents for not backing up their data included not knowing how to do it, not having time and forgetting about it, according to the survey by cybersecurity company Avast.

“It could be that many aren’t aware they are backing up, as it could be happening automatically, in the background, however, others really might not be backing up at all, thinking it is not worth it,” Luis Corrons, Security Evangelist at Avast, said in a statement.

“Losing personal documents, photos and videos can be a painful experience and it’s not until this happens that they realize how valuable it actually is,” Corrons added.

Of those who do back up their data, nearly 42 per cent Indians back up to a cloud storage, 36 42 per cent back up their data to an external hard drive, 23 42 per cent back up to a USB or flash disk, 18 42 per cent back up their phone to their PC, and 10 42 per cent back up to a network storage drive, the results showed.

Corrons recommended to back up data to two different locations, like the cloud, and a physical storage, like an external hard drive.

When it comes to iPhone and Android phone owners, the percentage that backs up is nearly the same, 69 per cent and 70 per cent respectively.

The percentage of smartphone owners that don’t know how to back up their data does not vary much between iPhone and Android owners, with 13 per cent and 17 per cent claiming not knowing how to, respectively, the study revealed.

Data loss can be caused by users accidentally deleting their data themselves, hardware damage and failure, as well as malware, causing valuable data such as photos, videos, documents, and messages to be lost forever.

Ransomware and other malware, such as wipers, can either encrypt or completely destroy files, and there is no guarantee that files can be decrypted if a ransom is paid.

The survey was conducted among 728 Avast and AVG users between February 20-March 25.

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