The Telegraph – The Deep State

Technology giants are turning into sovereign entities

Arghya Sengupta

Op/Ed, 20 May 2020. In my column last year, titled “Countries and companies”, I had written about how tech giants like Facebook were becoming like countries, taking on the mantle of improving lives of billions of people.

In the surest sign yet of this development, Facebook announced the creation of an independent board which would hear cases brought by users against Facebook itself and give binding decisions.

While the board has an innocuous sounding official name, the Independent Oversight Board, in an interview two years back, Mark Zuckerberg had imagined a body such as this as the “Supreme Court” for Facebook.

A Supreme Court for a private organization might seem like a category mistake. After all, courts are institutions of the State, handing down decisions backed by law.

But the creation of an independent judicial forum and giving the forum an evocative dark naam is not oversight. It is a daring play by Facebook to recast itself as a responsible global power with the trappings of a nation-state.

The Board itself is designed to perform two roles, first, in relation to Facebook’s content moderation policies, it gets to hear cases brought by users and Facebook itself.

So if you, as a user, are unsatisfied that your post glorifying Masterda’s audacious armoury raid in Chittagong was taken down by Facebook thinking it amounted to glorification and spread of terror, you can apply to the Board for remedy.

Like a court, a panel of the Board will hand down a decision that Facebook will be bound to follow. Second, on policy questions, such as how Facebook’s content moderation policies are formulated in the first place, it can provide non-binding policy guidance. Facebook has voluntarily agreed to give such guidance its consideration.

Any bold self-regulation of this kind is always welcome. However, it’s what this Board appears to do but will actually not do that makes it seem like a giant public relations exercise.

First, in relation to the Board’s binding decisions, its Charter contains an innocuous clause that these decisions will be subject to a compliance check by Facebook with the laws of the land before being implemented.

This is frankly befuddling. One would have imagined that the least a Supreme Court-like body, co-chaired by a formal federal judge from the United States of America, would have been capable of doing is ensuring that it does not make a decision that itself violates the law.

It is likely that despite its proclamations, the ultimate call on whether to actually implement hard decisions will lie with Facebook itself.

In a similar vein, although the Board has the flavour of an independent adjudicatory institution, cut through the accoutrements and it appears less so.

Decisions will be taken by smaller panels of the Board which will remain anonymous before being submitted to the full Board. There is little as repulsive as having a judicial forum where you don’t exactly know who the judges are.

Even the composition of the Board itself, as Kara Swisher of The New York Times describes it, is “impressively impressive… which is why it is also non-offensively non-offensive”. While it has a galaxy of respected individuals who are thoughtful, humane and credible, the jury is still out on its ability to function independently.

This is not because of the Charter for the Board itself or the document creating an independent trust to control it, both of which scream independence from every sentence.

It’s rather because Facebook must do much more to convince the world that it is an entity that no longer thinks like a social network for students in a Harvard dormitory with nothing more at stake than who pays for the beers at the frat party.

Especially since the ultimate implementation of the decisions of the Board still rests with Facebook, its success will depend critically on whether Facebook, indeed, has grown up as an organization. The proof of the pudding will be in the eating.

This doubt exists for many reasons, prominent amongst which is its record on policies of content moderation. The big question in this regard, one that makes Facebook State-like in the first place, is this: how exactly does Facebook make and apply its content moderation policies?

The rules of posting on Facebook, its community standards, used to be its best-kept secret till the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

After that, the company went on a charm offensive consulting widely in developing and updating these standards. But questions of application of these standards remain opaque.

According to a persistent stream of news reports, the actual task of determining whether content spreads terror, hate and so on and is in violation of the community standards requiring remedy is determined not by Facebook itself but contractors to whom this task is outsourced.

This is a task roughly analogous to what the police force does in every country. An outsourced police force seems like an abhorrent idea.

This is where the real reform is needed, to ensure transparency and fairness in applying its rules. Paying content moderation contractors $28,800 annually, approximately 1/10th of an average Facebook employee (data from The Verge, 2019) while setting up a ‘Supreme Court’ may become a case of pulling the wool over the eyes of the world.

At least for now, in the absence of such real reform, the company will have to do more to convince everyone that it has grown up sufficiently. It would, however, be unfair to single out Facebook as the only tech giant that is enrobing itself with the trappings of the State.

Its more grown-up compatriots, Apple and Google, are going about this same task, albeit much more subtly and smartly.

As a virtual duopoly in smartphone-operating systems (iOS and Android), Apple and Google recently jointly announced a privacy-protecting framework for all contact tracing applications, which detect the spread of the coronavirus and inform at-risk patients.

Applications like Aarogya Setu and other government-owned public health applications in different countries would have to comply with Apple’s and Google’s privacy, security and data control requirements, not the other way around.

Unlike Facebook’s bold public relations play to appear like a responsible State, Apple and Google are actually reversing the sovereign equation, dictating rules to countries without much fuss.

The shrinking of the State from the public sphere, the rapid growth of the internet, the inability of countries to keep up with the innovation of tech giants and the tech giants’ own desires of improving people’s lives through technology are four powerful currents whose confluence has led to these companies taking steps to become sovereign-like.

If my arguments above appear far-fetched, as they might, since a world that has 195 tech giants instead of 195 countries is seemingly far away, consider this, in 2010, Nick Clegg was appointed deputy prime minister of the United Kingdom, the second most powerful man in a country that was for two centuries not very long ago the most powerful in the world.

In 2020, merely ten years later, Clegg has jumped ship, although again as a deputy, this time to Zuckerberg at Facebook. The times they are a-changing.

Arghya Sengupta is Research Director, Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy.
Views are personal – United Sikhs asks Australia to rehabilitate Afghan Sikhs; Labor Party’s MP comes out in support

Sikh24 Editors

Melbourne – Victoria – Australia, 19 May 2020. For over 4 decades, the Sikh community in Afghanistan has suffered war-like conditions. They have endured barbaric attacks resulting in the loss of loved ones and having their religious freedom stifled by terrorism.

Thirty years ago, the population of Sikhs in Afghanistan was said to be around 250,000, but after decades of conflict and massacre through the rise of the Taliban, many have sought asylum in other countries and the community is thought to have been reduced to about 120 families.

United Sikhs has been advocating for and serving Afghan Sikhs for many years. This work is ongoing and the families of those lost and injured have been provided assistance. Avenues for immigration documentation to allow for resettlement are being pursued and the necessary resources to obtain such documentation have been put in place.

After the most recent terrorist attacks on 25 March 2020, in Gurdwara Guru Har Rai Sahib Ji in Kabul, the Sikh Diaspora, international leaders and human rights advocates moved swiftly to condemn the persons and groups responsible.

The United Sikhs reached out to government leaders around the world to stand against the religious persecution in Afghanistan and to protect Sikhs and other ethnic-religious minorities in the area.

The Islamic State has taken responsibility for the 25 March 2020 terrorist massacre in the gurdwara that left 25 people dead and many others injured. On March 28th, there was another terrorist attack directed at the Sikh community with improvised explosives.

Witnesses state that the Islamic State also issued a 10-day ultimatum for Sikhs to leave Afghanistan. The remaining roughly 650 Sikhs in Afghanistan wish to leave as immediately as possible, so they can escape the concentrated and constant violence in the region at the hands of terrorists or external actors pursuing mass killings against Sikhs.

The United Sikhs team in Australia has been working closely with elected representatives of Parliament to raise the concerns of the Afghan Sikh community and warrant that Australia play a pivotal part in ensuring those innocent families in consistent danger can be saved through resettlement.

The United Sikhs forwarded their concern for the Sikhs and Hindus in Afghanistan by writing to all of the Parliamentarians of Australia, including the Hon’ble Prime Minister, Mr Scott Morrison.

They were requested to treat the Afghan Sikh issue on a priority basis and provide them safe refuge in Australia as the lives of those Afghan Sikhs and Hindus hangs in the balance.

Mr Julian Hill, an Australian Labor Party MP from the Bruce Constituency, has listened to our teams’ representations and taken a proactive approach by writing to the Australian Foreign Affairs Minister, Senator the Honourable Marise Payne MP.

In a detailed letter, Mr Hill highlights his concerns for the safety of the Afghan Sikh community and fears that if urgent action is not taken, the threats from extremist groups to murder Afghan Sikhs en masse could turn into reality.

Mr Hill calls for an urgent international humanitarian effort to facilitate the resettlement, in which he believes Australia can play a vital role by offering assistance to broker a global agreement.

United Sikhs asks Australia to rehabilitate Afghan Sikhs; Labor Party’s MP comes out in support  

Gentbrugse Meersen – Gentbrugge-Melle-Gentbrugge

Gentbrugse Meersen
27 March 2020

This type of path in the Meersen is my favourite



I’ll take a right here, going on the rough path

See: much better !

Left tracks to Gent-Sint-Pieters
Right tracks to Gent-Dampoort

More Belgian pictures to be published
Harjinder Singh
Man in Blue

The Guardian – British government ‘covered up’ its role in Amritsar massacre in India

This article is more than 2 years old and also appeared on my blog at that time

A Sikh group is demanding an inquiry into the SAS’s involvement in the storming of Harmandr Sahib [Golden Temple] in 1984

Jamie Doward

London – UK, 29 October 2017. The government has been accused of covering up the full extent of the UK’s support for India’s bloody crackdown on Sikhs in 1984.

A new report calls for a full inquiry into the role played by Margaret Thatcher’s government in the events leading up to a massacre in which hundreds, possibly thousands, of Sikhs and Indian soldiers died.

In 2014 David Cameron ordered a review after the accidental release of secret documents revealed that a British SAS officer had been drafted in to advise the Indian authorities on removing armed Sikh militants from Harmandr Sahib, Sikhism’s holiest shrine.

The documents said the plan, known as Operation Blue Star, was carried out with the full knowledge of the Thatcher government.

A report, Sacrificing Sikhs, published by the Sikh Federation UK, described Cameron’s review, conducted by Sir Jeremy Heywood, as a “whitewash”.

It claims that attempts to expose the full facts have been thwarted by government secrecy rules and conflicts of interest. More than half of the Foreign Office’s files on India from 1984 have been censored in whole or in part.

Some documents suggest the Foreign Office was aware of what was at stake when the Indian authorities approached the UK for help.

A week before the Golden Temple assault, Bruce Cleghorn, a diplomat, wrote that “it would be dangerous” for the UK government “to be identified” with “any attempt to storm Harmandr Sahib in Amritsar”. He was also named in correspondence discussing possible SAS assistance to India immediately after the massacre.

In 2015, Cleghorn became a Foreign Office “sensitivity reviewer” whose job involved censoring documents about the Amritsar massacre before they were released to the National Archives.

Sir John Ramsden, a member of the Advisory Council on National Records and Archives, which adjudicates on government censorship applications, was a member of the Foreign Office’s south Asia department in 1984.

Ramsden wrote a letter advocating further SAS assistance for India immediately after Operation Blue Star and also argued in favour of equipping India’s paramilitary forces.

The role of the SAS officer in the days before Operation Blue Star are shrouded in secrecy as are the full extent of the fatalities. The Indian government puts the figure at about 400. Sikh groups say it was in the thousands.

According to the Sikh Federation’s report, immediately after the SAS officer carried out his reconnaissance with an Indian special forces unit, the Sikhs pulled out of peace talks believing they had seen a commando unit move into the city.

The negotiations never recovered and eventually the Indian army stormed Harmandr Sahib in June 1984. Four months later, India’s prime minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by one of her Sikh bodyguards, prompting reprisals that led to the deaths of more than 3,000 Sikhs.

The report suggests the UK was keen to help India because the country was one of its biggest purchasers of military equipment between 1981 and 1990. It also claims that repressive measures against Sikhs were carried out in the UK to appease the Indian government and secure arms deals.

“The government needs to finally come clean about Thatcher’s role in the Amritsar massacre and India’s crackdown on Sikhs,” said the report’s author, Phil Miller.

“Whitehall censorship of historical files is like an old boys’ club that prevents the public from ever knowing how taxpayers’ money was spent. This culture of secrecy around Britain’s special forces and intelligence agencies is undemocratic and unsustainable.”

Bhai Amrik Singh, chair of the Sikh Federation (UK) said: “This report casts serious doubts on the adequacy and integrity of the in-house Heywood review commissioned by Cameron. There has been a massive cover-up and parliament and the public have been disturbingly misled. An independent public inquiry to get to the truth is the only way forward.”

Dawn – JIT formed to probe Waziristan honour killings

Pazir Gul

Miramshah – North Waziristan – Pakistan, 20 May 2020. The Bannu regional police officer has constituted a four-member joint investigation team for probing the honour killing of two teenage girls, whose ‘objectionable’ video went viral lately.

The police have so far arrested four suspects, including the video recorder and the one, released on social media.

North Waziristan district police officer Shafiullah Gandapur will supervise the JIT, whose members include DSP Shahid Adnan, sub-inspectors Mir Sahib Khan and Mohammad Nawaz and assistant sub-inspector Farman Ali.

DPO Gandapur told reporters that the police had arrested Umer Ayaz, who had recorded the video and was seen in it; Fida Mohammad, a friend of Umer Ayaz with whom he had shared the video and suspected him of making it viral; father of one of the girls, Radwal Khan, and a cousin of the girls Roohuddin.

He said the alleged killer, Mohammad Aslam, who was also a cousin of the girls aged 16 and 18 respectively, had gone into hiding and the police were making efforts for his early arrest.

Video recorder among four held, suspected killer at large

The DPO said the police had also contacted cybercrime wing of the Federal Investigation Agency with a request for the deletion of the objectionable video from different websites.

He said the central character, Umer Ayaz, 28, was married and had two children.

Mr Gandapur said as the family had been keeping the issue a secret, it was a challenging case for the police.

“None of the family members had approached the police, so the SHO registered the FIR of the occurrence as the complainant,” he said.

The DPO said provincial police officer Sanaullah Abbasi was taking keen interest in the case. He said the district police were in contact with Karachi police for the tracing of the suspected killer as he used to live there before the killings.

Mr Gandapur said another woman seen in the 52 seconds video was the suspected killer’s wife, who seemed to be spared by the family, as she wasn’t found to be doing anything objectionable.

He said the girls’ family had migrated from South Waziristan area due to the Rah-i-Nijat military operation against militants before settling in Shamplan Garyam village of North Waziristan area.

The DPO added that the family of the deceased girls claimed that the video was filmed around a year ago.

He said Umer Ayaz revealed during investigation that he had only shared the video with friend Fida Mohammad, so he was suspected of making the video viral on social media.

The DPO added that due to sensitivity of the issue, the JIT comprised trained police officers to look into every aspect of the killings.

The girls were killed on 14 May, while the Razmak police station registered its FIR on 15 May.

Initially, the FIR included Section 302 of the Pakistan Penal Code but later, Pakistan Penal Code’s Section 311 dealing with fasad fil ard (mischief on earth) and Section 201 (causing of the disappearance of evidence) and Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act’s Section 19 (unauthorised interception of a transmission) were included in it.