The HINDU Notes – 27th December 2019 - VISION

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Friday, December 27, 2019

The HINDU Notes – 27th December 2019

πŸ“° NPR: house-to-house verification planned

NPR: house-to-house verification planned
Data on parents’ place of birth to be gathered; register already has data of 119 crore residents

•The Narendra Modi government proposes to update the existing National Population Register, which already has an electronic database of more than 119 crore residents, by verifying the details of all respondents through house-to-house enumeration, according to an official manual on conducting the fresh NPR exercise.

•The NPR exercise has become controversial because the Citizenship Rules 2003 link the Population Register to the creation of a National Register of Indian Citizens (NRIC) or National Register of Citizens.

•Coupled with the passage of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019, which excludes Muslims, fears about an NPR-NRC have brought lakhs of people onto the streets in protest.

•More than 20 people have been killed during the protests, most of them in Uttar Pradesh.

April-Sept. 2020

•Data for the NPR was first collected in 2010, and updated in 2015. The Modi Government has proposed that the next phase of NPR will be conducted along with Census exercise between April to September 2020.

•According to the government manual seen by The Hindu, the enumerators, all government officials, will “modify and correct the demographic data items”. They are also tasked with collecting mobile, voter card, Indian passport and driving licence numbers from residents.

•The manual requires the “inclusion of all new residents, new households found in the local area during the field work”.

•The 2010 NPR form collected details on 15 parameters whereas a “pretest” form that was used to collect data on a trial basis from 30 lakh people in September this year, sought additional details on columns such as “place of birth of father and mother, last place of residence” etc..

•It also added details such as Aadhaar number, voter ID card number, mobile phone number and driving license number.

•The manual states that in cases where date of birth or age was not known, the enumerator could help the respondent by “stimulating her/his memory” with reference to historical events well known in the area such as a “war, flood, earthquake, change in political regime, etc.”

•The manual says that if the respondent does not know the age of any member of the household and probing also does not help in determining the age of that person, “you will have to estimate her/his age by using your best judgment.”

•The manual was prepared before the pretest was conducted.

•On Thursday, Minister of State for Home G. Kishan Reddy confirmed that additional details related to the place of birth of the parents of a person being enlisted, Aadhaar number and last place of residence were being recorded as part of “basic requirements for NPR.”

•Mr. Reddy said, “I strongly condemn the deliberate and baseless misinformation campaign being spread by the Opposition parties and a section of media that NPR is a precursor to NRC. I want to make it categorical that there is no link between the two. The present NPR is part of the 2021 Census enumeration. We are just continuing the NPR exercise started by the UPA Government in 2010 with just additions of three or four columns...The opposition parties are playing a mind game of vitiating people’s faith in the government.”

•However, the Modi Government has repeatedly told Parliament that the NPR was the first step towards compiling the NRC. The Assam-specific NRC, conducted under the supervision of Supreme Court, had excluded 19 lakh out of 3.29 crore residents. There are apprehensions that people will have to dig out old documents to prove their residency in India on the lines of the exercise conducted in Assam. So far, the Modi government has not revealed the cut-off date for a nationwide NRC, which Home Minister Amit Shah has committed to in Parliament.

•Mr. Shah said on Tuesday that there was “no link between NPR and NRC”, but the 2003 Citizenship Rules clearly provides for the creation of NRIC / NRC that will flow from data gathered in the NPR. The Rules empower local officials to decide on a person’s citizenship status.

πŸ“° China, Russia and Iran to hold naval drills in Gulf of Oman

‘An attempt to deepen cooperation between the three navies’

•China, Russia and Iran will hold joint naval drills starting Friday in the Gulf of Oman, Beijing and Tehran said, at a time of heightened tensions since the U.S. withdrew from a landmark nuclear deal with Tehran.

•Set to take place from December 27 to 30, the military exercises aim to “deepen exchange and cooperation between the navies of the three countries”, Chinese Defence Ministry spokesman Wu Qian told reporters on Thursday.

•Mr. Wu said the Chinese navy would deploy its Xining guided missile destroyer — nicknamed the “carrier killer” for its array of anti-ship and land attack cruise missiles — in the drills.

•For Iran, the drill’s purpose was to bolster “international commerce security in the region” and “fighting terrorism and piracy,” said senior armed forces spokesman Brigadier General Aboldazl Shekarchi.

•The exercise would “stabilise security” in the region and benefit the world, state news agency IRNA quoted him as saying on Wednesday.

•China’s Foreign Minister said the exercises were part of “normal military cooperation” between the three countries.

πŸ“° The Data Protection Bill only weakens user rights

A culmination of flawed policy proposals, this piece of legislation will refine, store and trade personal information

•In the continuing social churn and widespread citizen protests, it would seem out of place to direct thought towards issues such as data protection. The Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019, which was introduced in the Lok Sabha this month, is a revolutionary piece of legislation that promises to return power and control to people in our digital society. Pending deliberation before a Joint Parliamentary Committee, it is intimately connected to the very same fundamental rights and constitutional principles that are being defended today on the streets and in the fields.

•The Bill has seen serpentine movement, passing expert committees, central ministries and then the Lok Sabha in the winter session. Before focusing on the nuances and finer details which merit deliberation we must take a step back to look at the broader politics of personal data protection. This would help contextualise the legislative proposal and understand the degree of protection which is limited by overboard exceptions in favour of security and revenue interests.

Securitisation and revenue

•The rise of the national security narrative has not been gone unnoticed by seasoned political observers. What is novel is its intersection with technology. This is central to several policy and political pronouncements by the present government. In many ways, it is a continuation of the politics of securitisation of the government from its previous term. For instance, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s manifesto (sankalp patra) released before the general election 2019 provides useful insight where it states appropriate technological interventions centred around Aadhaar. This shrugs off any recognition of its contested legality before the Supreme Court which ruled on the fundamental right to privacy. Privacy is mentioned just once in this voluminous document — 49 mentions of ‘security’ and 56 mentions of ‘technology’.

•This is a trend which continues. The President of India’s address to Joint Sitting of Parliament on June 20, 2019 — fresh from the results of the general election — proclaimed that “my government is committed to that very idea of nation-building, the foundation for which was laid in 2014”. The priorities of the government are clearly charted out with zero mention of privacy or data protection; there are 18 mentions of ‘security’ and eight of ‘technology’. This familiar template is again found in the Prime Minister’s Independence day speech on August 15, 2019 which focussed on dramatic social change. He noted: “I believe that there should be change in the system, but at the same time there should be a change in the social fabric.” There is zero mention of ‘privacy’ or ‘data protection’; however there are seven mentions of ‘security’, six on ‘technology’ and five for ‘digital’. There may be government policy documents that may emphasise or contradict these assertions. However these statements made by high public officials at historic times when they may be widely viewed by large number of Indians are deserving of primacy. They reveal, at the very least, a pecking order in terms of viewing both technology and security as high priorities in governance objectives.

•As Edward Snowden explains in his Permanent Record, there is a symbiotic relationship between the financial model of large online platforms and security interest. They both feed off personal data and the attention economy, where platforms gather this data and the government then seeks access to it. In India this is being taken a step further. The government is seeking to not only access data but also collect it and then exploit it — making it an active data trader for the generation of revenue to meet its fiscal goals.

Principles in conflict

•First, the scale of data collection is ambitious and broadly contained in the ‘Digital India’ programme; on its website it says: “to transform the entire ecosystem of public services through the use of information technology…”. Here, all elements of a citizen-state interaction are being data-fied. In the view of some technologists, this also fulfils geostrategic goals when personal data is viewed as strategic state resource. However, this poses grave risks to the right to privacy. These become evident from a casual reading of the national Economic Survey of 2019, which in Chapter 4 devotes an entire chapter on the fiscal approach towards personal data. In a “Chapter at a glance” it says: “In thinking about data as a public good, care must also be taken to not impose the elite’s preference of privacy on the poor, who care for a better quality of living the most.”

•Two tangible examples show the operation of this policy framework. The first is with respect to the recent sale of vehicular registration data and driving licences by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways. Here, quite often, the principles of a data protection law would conflict with these uses as it would break the fundamental premise of purpose limitation. This principle broadly holds that personal data which is gathered for a specific purpose cannot be put to any other distinct use without consent of the person from whom it was acquired. The second is an expert committee (headed by Kris Gopalakrishnan, Chairperson, Infosys) on what is termed “community data”. While the definition of such, “community data” is contested, as per the note it is plainly obvious this is again to serve fiscal interests of the state and technology businesses when it states that such data “is critical for economic advantage”.

Muddled formulation

•The existing draft of the Data Protection Bill is reflective of a political economy that is motivated towards ensuring minimal levels of protection for personal data. It has a muddled formulation in terms of its aims and objectives, contains broad exemptions in favour of security and fiscal interests, including elements of data nationalism by requiring the compulsory storage of personal data on servers located within India.

•From its very preamble it seeks to place the privacy interests of individuals on the same footing as those of businesses and the state. Here, by placing competing interests on the same plane, two natural consequences visit the drafting choices within it. First, the principle of data protection to actualise the fundamental right to privacy is not fulfilled as a primary goal but is conditioned from the very outset. Second, by placing competing goals — which contradict each other — any balancing is clumsy, since no primary objectives are set. This results in a muddy articulation that would ultimately ensure a weak data protection law.

•This present draft of the Bill comes as a disappointment especially after the emphatic judgment by the nine-judge Bench of the Supreme Court on the Right to Privacy. The judgment contains categorical language that the Bill is a measure to actualise the fundamental right. However, this draft serves a political economy which at first blush appears attractive in its promise of taking us away from the dull maxims of constitutionalism and delivering us a digital utopia. Again, this was best phrased by the Prime Minister when he stated at the Digital India dinner on September 26, 2015, at San Jose, California: “... technology is advancing citizen empowerment and democracy that once drew their strength from Constitutions.”

•Hence, on a broader read, the Data Protection Bill is not a leaky oil barrel with large exceptions, but it is a perfect one. It will refine, store and then trade the personal information of Indians without their control; open for sale or open for appropriation to the interests of securitisation or revenue maximisation, with minimal levels of protection. For this to change, we have to not only focus on red-lining the finer text of this draft but also reframing large parts of its intents and objectives.

πŸ“° Disrupting the gender-blind political discourse in India

Affirmative action can empower more women

•India is believed to be resolutely moving forward as an economic entity. Not even the currently slowing growth takes away from this perception. Added to this is a celebration of the Constitution undergirding our democracy. So here, it would seem, is a country forging ahead economically while upholding freedoms for its people. Recent reports of gruesome assaults on women, involving rape and ending with murder, have jolted this narrative.

•Democracy in India is directly impugned when the accused men allegedly receive protection from the ruling dispensation, as is the case in Uttar Pradesh, or when the police force fails to protect women, as was the case in Telangana. In a democracy where the political class deploys identity politics to capture power, it is striking that not only is the case of women left scrupulously untouched, their very existence is increasingly under threat from misogyny in society.

•When a society adopts democracy as its form of governance, it presumes the beginning of a social transformation. It is acknowledged that this should entail the elimination of religiously endorsed privileges, the ending of domination by some over others and a general ushering in of equality of opportunity. This process is abetted by economic growth and the emergence of markets, which enable people to shed the constraints that have held them back. This is a more or less universal trajectory, though it first occurred in Western democracies.

Emancipation movements

•While this process took a long time, it gathered speed after the Second World War when an economic boom unleashed emancipation movements, particularly in the U.S., which had as their focus black rights, feminism and sexual liberation. Why has India not had anything even close, movements that constitute the social transformation that must accompany democracy if the latter is to achieve its ends? This is often answered by recourse to the ‘fatalistic attitude bred by Indian culture’. This we see to be false when we recognise the differentiation whereby not everyone is at the receiving end, most evident in the case of violence against women.

•It is difficult to think of any part of the world where historic inequity has been removed entirely through the agency of the oppressed. An end to the most overt forms of domination of women in the U.S. came after at least half a century of education, which enabled women to imagine a life crafted by themselves. Education further enabled them to be economically independent, sloughing off the patriarchal norm that had bound them for ages.

Role of the public sector

•The greater part of the spread of education in the U.S. was through public school system. By comparison, in India, very little of the myriad public policy interventions has been directed towards women’s empowerment. Girls stop attending school due to the absence of functioning toilets there and women drop out of the labour force as they do not feel safe when travelling to work. This also restrains economic progress.

•The empowerment of religion via ‘Indian secularism’ and a caste-laden political discourse has served to keep out a public discussion of the ‘women’s question’ in India. It is not difficult to see that India’s politics as ‘honour among men’ leaves patriarchy secure from challenge. The opposition of caste-based political parties to the Women’s Reservation Bill only reflects this. They have no credible argument and rely solely on their numbers in a fractured polity. Affirmative action aimed at a far greater inclusion of women in India’s institutions of governance, especially the police and the judiciary, is central to ending the violence against women. India’s gender-blind political discourse needs disruption.

πŸ“° More 5G spectrum sale on anvil

Telecom department to seek TRAI’s views on auction for 24.75-27.25 GHz band

•Preparations have started to bring in more 5G spectrum to be put on sale towards the end of 2020, according to an official.

•This comes in the wake of the Centre’s decision to conduct auctions for more than 8,300 Mhz of spectrum, including those to be used to offer 5G service, in March-April next year.

•The Department of Telecom (DoT) will soon seek the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s (TRAI) recommendation on the auction of spectrum in the 24.75 to 27.25 Ghz band, which is considered highly suited to 5G services deployment.

•“We will soon be making a reference to TRAI for millimeter bands (24.75 GHz to 27.25 GHz)... these are 5G bands... This we plan to auction sometime late next year,” a senior Ministry official said.

•The official said currently, three spectrum bands are considered good for offering 5G services, two of which — the 700 MHz and 3.4 GHz-3.6 Ghz — will be put up for sale in the upcoming auction.

•The Cellular Operators Association of India has been requesting the government to seek TRAI’s views on 26 GHz band. Earlier this month, the Digital Communications Commission — the highest decision-making body in the DoT — gave its approval for TRAI’s recommendation to put 8300 MHz of airwaves across 22 circles up for sale. About 35% of this spectrum is for 5G services.

5G trials

•Asked about 5G trials, the official said the DoT had received seven applications, including from players such as Ericsson, Samsung, Nokia, Huawei and ZTE.

•“The DoT will be calling each one of them to discuss what their plans are and evaluate their needs and then take a call accordingly. This should be finalised in the January-March quarter,” the official added.

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