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Daily Current Affairs 05.05.2023 ( Voters express concern over breach of data and privacy , Services sector’s resilience may be tested as global demand cools , SCO Ministers meet today to discuss economic ties , Do CCTV cameras protect us or invade our privacy? , India, Russia said to suspend talks to settle trade in rupees )

Daily Current Affairs 05.05.2023 ( Voters express concern over breach of data and privacy , Services sector’s resilience may be tested as global demand cools , SCO Ministers meet today to discuss economic ties , Do CCTV cameras protect us or invade our privacy? , India, Russia said to suspend talks to settle trade in rupees )

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1. Voters express concern over breach of data and privacy

Many voters are getting calls where they are being asked whom they will vote for.

Automated messages from unknown number, identified as EC, asking about voting preference; calls asking respondents to record a message are some of the problems faced by Karnataka voters

Priyanka K., a voter from Yelahanka constituency, received a phone call from an unknown number, which was identified as ‘Election Commission of India’ by a caller identification app. When she answered, there was an automated message which asked her to indicate her voting preference.

Many voters across Bengaluru are getting similar automated calls where they are being asked whom they would vote for. Not just that, breach of privacy and data have been a major concern this election season as many citizens are receiving multiple calls and messages from various political parties, media agencies, canvassers and unknown entities.

Voters have also received automated messages from the BJP and the Congress asking them to vote for particular candidates and in the BJP’s case, sometimes also to re-elect Basavaraj Bommai. The pre-recorded call also asks the respondents to record a message, which they claim would be sent to Mr. Modi, some voters reported.

The Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike and the Election Commission officials said that they were aware of such cases. “The usage of the name of EC is concerning. We have forwarded the complaints to the cyber team to investigate,” said Manoj Kumar Meena, Chief Electoral Officer, Karnataka.

2. Buoyancy check

Services sector’s resilience may be tested as global demand cools

India’s services sector seems to have had a great start to the financial year, if one were to go purely by the findings of the S&P Global Services PMI Business Activity Index. Based on surveys of around 400 firms across segments such as consumer services, finance and communications, the index reading stood at 62 in April — the highest seasonally adjusted figure in 153 months or nearly 13 years. A reading of over 50 on the index, constructed since 2005, indicates an expansion in activity levels relative to the previous month. To put the April number in perspective, the average PMI reading for services through 2022-23 was around 57.3. The increasing importance of the services economy to India’s total output and job creation does not need to be reiterated much. As per the second advance national income estimates for 2022-23, the Gross Value Added (GVA) growth from industry as a whole slipped to 4.1%, with manufacturing tripping to just 1.6% — both of them had grown at around 10% in 2021-22. Services’ GVA, on the other hand, is expected to have grown 9.1% during the year, accelerating from 8.4% in the previous year. Along with a pick up from the farm sector, services is expected to lift GVA growth in 2022-23 to 6.7% with GDP rising 7%.

On the trade front, India’s services exports are estimated to have hit a record $325 billion in 2022-23, reflecting a growth of almost 28% over the previous year. The strong uptick in such intangible trade and the resultant surplus vis-à-vis imports of services have significantly plugged the hole in India’s current account deficit caused by a much sharper 40% widening of the goods trade deficit, which is reckoned to have hit $267 billion during the year. Growth in services exports during March had slipped to around 3% from 29% in February. However, as per the April PMI print, along with a surge in fresh demand and output for domestic services, outbound deals also increased at the highest pace in three months. That offers some comfort amid a strengthening global slowdown in major markets for India’s IT-dominated services exports. Yet, the flurry of crises in U.S. and European financial institutions, a key clientele for India’s tech majors, for instance, remains a worry. That services exports growth could moderate going forward is corroborated by the lower earnings guidance provided by IT companies as well as their extended dithering over on-boarding young recruits. The latter is part of an uncomfortable trend captured within the PMI reading — despite April’s boom, job creation has remained negligible and input costs have resurged. Neither augurs well for sustaining domestic demand, which has already taken a hit from high inflation.

3. Do CCTV cameras protect us or invade our privacy?

 Niligiris District Superintendent of Police K. Prabhakar inaugurating the CCTV camera surveillance in Udhagamandalam. Sathyamoorthy M.

PARLEY

India’s CCTV camera coverage has grown rapidly over the years. Today, Delhi and Chennai have more cameras per square mile than cities in China. States argue that CCTV cameras reduce crime, and the public finds the presence of these cameras reassuring. In a survey conducted by Lokniti-Centre for the Study of Developing Societies in August 2022 in 12 States, more than three-fourths of the respondents supported installing CCTV cameras at the entrance of their homes. However, surveillance is a big concern. Recently, in Telangana, the wrong man was apprehended when authorities purportedly recognised him from security camera footage as a potential culprit in a chain-snatching event. He died days after being released. In a conversation moderated by Sonikka Loganathan, Srinivas Kodali and Anushka Jain discuss whether CCTVs are helping the police fight crime or are being used as a tool to invade privacy. Edited excerpts:

Do more CCTV cameras help reduce crime?

Srinivas Kodali: This is a claim. We don’t have any evidence. But it’s clear that the cameras don’t always function.

Anushka Jain: The state says this because they want to be seen as doing something to reduce crime. There are multiple studies in the U.K. which show that there is no connection between CCTV cameras and reduction of crime. If the claim is that cameras will increase women’s safety, then why are crimes against women not going down? The majority of crimes against women take place at home. CCTV cameras are not helpful in those situations. And, like Srinivas said, most CCTV cameras don’t even work.

A CAG audit of 2018-19 stated that only 55-68% cameras were working in Delhi. Do you think that cameras still help the police identify suspects?

SK: They help the police close cases by figuring out who the criminal is, but they don’t always work. If a crime scene has no CCTV footage, that case rarely gets solved. And there is an over-reliance on these systems, which leads to false negatives and false positives.

AJ: A false negative means that the police have not been able to identify the criminal and he goes free. A false positive means that an innocent person is identified as the suspect.

Do you think that the pros of CCTV/facial recognition outweigh privacy concerns?

SK: It’s not just about facial recognition; the police use CCTV cameras to identify cars and bikes which are speeding or have been used in a robbery. In theory, this is great. The challenge is that we don’t know what the police are using the footage for otherwise. Are they using it at protest sites? Even if there is no CCTV camera at the site, the police use their phones or handy cameras for recording because they are afraid that something untoward might happen. There could be somebody at the protest who was politically motivated to cause harm, which is true, and the police should be allowed to do this. But there has to be an oversight of the actions of the police thereafter, which does not happen. And that’s the real challenge — when you don’t know what they’re going to do with this data. So, it’s not just about policing the bad people; good people may also get harmed.

AJ: They have a database against which they match the CCTV footage. The database could be the criminal tracking network system, passport, or licence records. That is how facial recognition works. It depends on how long the database is supposed to have your data. According to the Criminal Procedure (Identification) Act, fingerprints, handprints or any evidence can be kept for 75 years. Why 75 years? There is no explanation. So, even after you die, evidence such as your fingerprints could be on record. What is the point of that? Like Srinivas said, the task of the police is to not just investigate crimes, but maintain public order. There are barriers to how freely people can protest and one of them is police intimidation. For example, if the police record me while I am protesting, this can affect not just me, but have a chilling effect on others. They may be scared to be identified by the police. The right to protest, to freedom of speech and to privacy all get violated. Just because I’m in a public space does not mean that my right to privacy has ended.

How is surveillance integrated into the legal framework?

AJ: There is no law which regulates how the data is collected, processed, stored, when it should be deleted, or with whom it can be shared. There is no specific law with regard to facial recognition, or a standard operating procedure on how the police should use CCTVs or facial recognition technology.

SK: The Criminal Procedure (Identification) Act allows police departments to use new technologies — not just facial recognition but also fingerprint recognition, voice detection, etc. And there is no oversight. For instance, the New York and London police departments have oversight committees. When there is a violation of civil rights, you can file a complaint against the police. India does not have that. Also, if I don’t know what evidence is being collected and how these systems function, how do I challenge them in courts? Even judges are not always familiar with these systems. The State police departments have police manuals and standing orders. Ideally, the use of facial recognition and all evidentiary practices need to be part of these manuals. But you won’t find it in, say, the Telangana police manual.

If I want my footage of walking down a street wiped from a police camera because I just don’t want it there, there is nothing I can do?

SK: Technically, you can file an RTI and request footage. But they always say that they don’t store the footage for more than 30 days. When you file an RTI, they have to reply within 30 days. So their reply will be that it has been deleted.

It is easy to tamper with video footage these days. Is camera footage reliable evidence?

AK: To use CCTV evidence, there are conditions laid out under the Indian Evidence Act (Section 65B). There is a certificate that has to be obtained. But often the hardware is damaged and the quality of the recording is poor. So, even if you know that the recording has been made legally, it could still not be sufficient evidence. And yes technology has transformed so much that it’s difficult to identify tampering of footage.

SK: If there is any footage, no matter how it was obtained, courts may take the side of the police. But it should be the police who have to prove that this is authentic. If you have CCTV footage of a man at a place, but his phone was somewhere else, he can make the argument that he wasn’t at that spot. But obtaining call records is hard for an individual. The police can obtain them easily. So, people who are being accused of something do not have the power to question the accusation.

Do you think that lack of laws is indirectly promoting misuse?

AJ: I don’t want to attribute malice. I feel that, when somebody is working for a cause, they become convinced (that what they are doing is right). Sometimes they rely more on CCTV when they should not, or they don’t show evidence that may not support their theory. They justify those actions saying they are doing all this to remove criminals from the street. Maybe they do this because they are convinced that the person has committed the crime and they are not able to prove it. However, there needs to be a human rights assessment of these technologies, how they are being used by the police. When they are used correctly, what are the benefits and are they comparable to the harm being caused?

Can the government access CCTV footage?

AJ: This brings us back to the need to adopt data protection principles like purpose limitation and storage limitation. This means that only the data to be used for a lawful purpose is collected. It is stored only for the time until which the purpose is carried out. After that it is deleted. There is a legal vacuum when it comes to these systems and processes. So, the data that you’ve shared with the government could hypothetically be accessed by the police and vice-versa.

Why is there a legal vacuum even years after CCTVs were introduced to the public?

SK: A lot of these systems came into place because of society’s demands. CCTVs primarily were pushed from a woman safety angle. The idea was to invest in them because of the failures that took place during the Mumbai attacks too. We were modernising our entire policing infrastructure, so we began experimenting with technologies. If you look at how governance functions, you do a pilot project. If it succeeds, you expand it. There were multiple pilots conducted. If Hyderabad invested in facial recognition, Andhra Pradesh invested in iris recognition. There are different police departments and because the police are under the control of the State governments, States decide what they want to do. Laws are brought about to protect citizens, but in this case national security is being used as an excuse not to bring laws to control state surveillance.

There is no law which regulates how the data is collected, processed, stored, when it should be deleted, or with whom it can be shared.

4. SCO Ministers meet today to discuss economic ties

Boosting measures: External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, in Goa on Thursday.

Officials say India’s position is seen as a ‘balancing force’ as a member of Quad, G-20, BRICS, IBSA and SCO; Foreign Ministers to discuss the induction of Iran and Belarus as full members

SUHASINI HAIDAR

Stepping up economic cooperation, including discussing national currency payments for mutual trade, will be on the agenda for the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Foreign Ministers meeting in Benaulim on Friday.

The proposal, which comes in the wake of the Ukraine war and sanctions imposed on Russia, which is one of the founder members of the organisation, came from Central Asian members, said sources, indicating that “initial discussions” had begun between the eight-member group comprising Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

“The most important work before the SCO Foreign Ministers will be to assess the status of decisions that will be approved at the SCO Summit in New Delhi in July,” said Dammu Ravi, Secretary (Economic Relations) in the MEA, briefing presspersons on Thursday.

India is already in bilateral discussions with Russia on using national payments, third-country payments and other means over circumventing unilateral sanctions imposed by the U.S. and the European Union, and is part of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) grouping that is also discussing a multilateral payment mechanism.

“While traditionally, security and terrorism used to dominate the SCO’s agenda, but during its presidency, India is bringing on the table issues of economic and cultural cooperation between the members as well,” official sources said.

The issues were discussed on Thursday morning by External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and SCO Secretary-General Zhang Ming. They also reviewed 15 “decision points” that would be discussed and approved by the Foreign Ministers after Friday morning’s SCO meeting, and MoUs will be signed.

A final decision on all the points, including the national payments collaboration will be taken at the SCO Heads of State Summit in July this year, where the officials said Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping will be among those invited by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

While all other countries are represented by their Presidents, India and Pakistan are represented by their Prime Ministers at the HoS meeting.

The sources said that the SCO Foreign Ministers will discuss the induction of Iran and Belarus as full members at their meeting, and will forward their applications to the summit.

Asked whether India, that has no ties at a political level with co-member Pakistan, and strained ties with SCO founder China due to the military stand-off at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) three years ago, as well as a member of U.S.-led groupings like the Quad which have been criticised by SCO co-founder Russia, was in an awkward position as the SCO host, officials said that India’s position is appreciated as a “balancing” force.

“I think that most [countries] appreciate the fact that India is able to play such a versatile role, as a member of different groupings such as Quad (U.S.-India-Japan-Australia), G-20, BRICS, in IBSA (India-Brazil-South Africa) and the SCO. This shows that India’s role is appreciated and India is seen as a balancing force,” said the official.

5. India, Russia said to suspend talks to settle trade in rupees

Two Indian government officials say negotiators unable to convince Moscow to stock rupees in its coffers; an increasing amount of trade is being settled in other currencies like the UAE dirham

India and Russia have halted efforts to settle bilateral trade in rupees, after months of negotiations failed to convince Moscow to keep rupees in its coffers, two Indian government officials and a source with direct knowledge of the matter said.

This would be a major setback for Indian importers of cheap oil and coal from Russia who were awaiting a rupee payment mechanism to help lower currency conversion costs.

With a high trade gap in favour of Russia, Moscow believes it will end up with an annual rupee surplus of over $40 billion if such a mechanism is worked out and feels rupee accumulation is ‘not desirable’, an Indian government official, who did not want to be named, told Reuters.

The rupee is not fully convertible and India’s share of global exports of goods is just about 2%. These factors reduce the necessity for other countries to hold rupees.

India started exploring a rupee settlement mechanism with Russia soon after the invasion of Ukraine. Most trade is in dollars but an increasing amount is being done in currencies like the UAE dirham.

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