18 December 2013

Devyani Khobragade and the India-US diplomacy row

US embassy in New Delhi

The Trigger

On 12 December 2013, Devyani Khobragade, the Deputy Consul General of the Indian consulate in New York, was arrested in front of her daughter's school with great coarseness which is the flair of most US law enforcement agencies. Later, she was the given the full treatment usually reserved for the lowest criminals, or if the 'Murican cops have an axe to grind with someone. Thus, the matter which could have been solved discreetly has turned into a full blown international diplomatic incident.

But, what was the cause of the arrest? Apparently, Khobragade took an Indian housemaid to US, and paid her less than the US minimum wage. Allegedly she also lied on the visa application that she will be paying the maid 4500 USD per month, when actually her own salary is only about 4000 USD per month.

The Retaliation

Not that Indian officials, ministers and presidents have not be harassed by US law enforcement and security agencies in the past before, but somehow the Indian government has decided to react this time, probably because this is an election year.

In a surprising move, India has revoked several privileges enjoyed by US diplomats, including custom-free and scrutiny-free imports; and has demanded that the salaries of Indians employed by them be revealed. Also, yesterday bulldozers were seen removing crash barriers from the front of some US embassies, which were there to prevent car-bombs from ramming in. Although, I am glad that India is finally throwing some weight around, whereas in the past it had shrugged off such churlish behavior with barely a twitch, but the opposition seems to be having some ideas of its own. BJP leader Yashwant Sinha called for the arrest of the same-sex companions of US diplomats. This statement was made pointing to the recent Supreme Court decision to overturn the previous Delhi High Court decision to decriminalize sodomy.

The Law

Although, the Vienna Convention grants immunity to diplomats from prosecution by the host nation, US officials have argued that this arrest is justified because immunity only holds when the laws were violated in the process of carrying out official duties. For comparison, in 2011 when the CIA contractor Raymond Davis Allen shot two men Lahore, US had also claimed diplomatic immunity. Later, Davis was freed after US paid 2.4 million USD as blood-money. Aha, the rules apply to all but the Americans.

On the other hand, India has defended its revoking of diplomatic immunity of American diplomats by pointing to the Indian diplomatic policy guideline enshrined in the Vienna Convention Act of 1972, which states the immunities can be revoked,

if it appears to the Central Government that a State which is a party to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, 1961 is in breach of its obligations arising thereunder or, that the privileges and immunities

The Caste Card

How come any discussion on anything about India rarely goes with a mention of the caste system? There should be something like the Godwin's Law for India and the caste system. So now Mayawati, the BSP chief, has made the statement the government was late in reacting because the diplomat was a Dalit.

Posting updates as they develop.

Image source: Wikimedia

25 July 2013

UK MP Claire Perry's Website Defaced. Accuses Blogger of Sponsoring the Attack.

Recently, I wrote about UK government's insidious attempt at internet censorship. Claire Perry, the Tory MP, is apparently the architect behind the default-on censorship filters. So on 23 July 2013, some unknown pranksters defaced her official website and posted some shock images on it. This should have ended there, with a red-faced Perry.

But then, Paul Staines, who blogs under the name Guido Fawkes, wrote about it and included a safe-for-work screenshot of the website. Perry decided to go at him on Twitter and accused him of actually sponsoring the attack. The whole exchange is here:

I must admit, this does leave her looking more embarrassed than before, her technological illiteracy laid bare for the world to see. At last updates, Paul Staines has decided to sue Claire Perry for libel, after his blog readers urged him to sue in a poll.

23 July 2013

The Great Wall of UK: UK Bans Porn. Why It is Bad. And What It Means For India.

Apparently, the UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, today declared that he is blocking pornography by default to all UK homes because it is "corroding childhood". This means unless you explicitly ask your ISP to allow you to access porn, you won't be able to. Now, not that I am here defending porn, but I think this is a real sneaky way to introduce internet censorship.

Default On

Firstly, this essentially allows the government to install a filter on your internet connection (whether on ISP level or on your PC, it is not clear yet). You have no way of knowing what they are blocking. And furthermore, this is by default on. You will not have a choice whether or not, you want a filter. It will be there by default and turned on. You will have to request to your ISP to get it turned off. I wonder how many people will approach their ISPs with a blushing face and request it to be turned off. Of course, it is not going to be easy to turn it off. Please expect hours of waiting on the phone and navigating through confounding webpages. If you are a parent and still want to access porn, you may certainly face some stink-eyes. Secondly, if you have got this filter turned off, there is no way to know that if you are still able to access everything or if they are still blocking some sites on the sly.

Real Sly Move

As revealed by Cameron, the negotiations with four majors ISPs are already complete. Now, he is going to arm-twist Google and Bing to block some "horrific" terms in their search results. If they refuse to comply, they will face legal consequences. But, I think this blocking of "horrific" terms is just a farce to show that they are really serious about it, and not in for the censorship powers it will provide.

But, the best part is that now any free speech advocates can now be derided as porn addicts and paedophiles. Any rational discussion about censorship concerns will now face a "but think of the children" rhetoric.

What About India

Recently, India's Minister of Communication and IT, Kapil Sibal, has been contemplating a similar censorship plan for India in view of the recent rise in reported cases of crimes against women. Apparently, the culprit is porn. It does not matter if there are no studies correlating pornography with the rising crimes rates. They have already started it, and legitimate sites like the mobile app site Zedge and several file-sharing sites have been blocked. Furthermore, Mr. Sibal seems to be having some beef with the mobile OS Android. Several are already speculating that if Android will indeed be banned in India.

In midst of all this, I am worried that the UK ban may provide a template for the future Indian IT laws. Those Indian MPs who are still sitting on the fence may be pushed to make a choice, a wrong choice.

Image Source: Wikipedia