Social media used to engineer psychological manipulation of public opinion

As a war wages over cyberspace activities of parties, a key Parliamentary panel has expressed concern over social media being used to engineer “psychological manipulation” of public opinion on crucial issues affecting countries.

The comments by the Committee on Estimates led by veteran BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi comes amid worldwide condemnation of data analytics firm ‘Cambridge Analytica’ for “misusing” Facebook users data to influence voters in US Presidential elections and Brexit campaign.

In a section on cyber crimes in its report ‘Central Armed Police Forces and Internal Security Challenges: Evaluation and Response Mechanism’, the committee acknowledged that social networking has emerged as a key tool used around the world to promote and aid communication.

“However, this type of technology might be doing more harm than good. Of late, use of social media has been seen as a key tool for engineering psychological manipulation of public and its opinion on issues that affect the nation and society,” the report said.

The Committee expressed its fear that the “potential for interference by one state with the affairs of another state” through the use of social media is “higher than ever”. It said, “clearly, lines have blurred between freedom of expression, privacy, law and order

Though the report does not mention any specific incidents, it appears that the Committee has in mind the allegations in the United States that Donald Trump’s election was aided by Russians. Last week, it also emerged that Cambridge Analytica, which aided Trump’s campaign, illegally harvested user data.

The Cambridge Analytica episode has also raised the political mercury in India with Congress and BJP locking horns over their suspected links to the firm. Another controversy erupted following allegations that there was data leak from Prime Minister Narendra Modi (NaMo) App. Congress is also in the eye of a storm over its now deleted App being launched from a server based in Singapore.

Like in the West, Modi had used social media vigorously in the 2014 campaign to emerge victorious. He has also asked MPs to reach out to the people through social media, especially Facebook.

In its report, the Committee said the “cocktail of social media, 24-hour television and NGOS create virtual reality, which soon has effects in the real world.” It said the probability of disruption has grown apace with the rise in number of cyber users.

These are not just law and order problems, and they are not amenable to the traditional responses that the states are accustomed to. These are serious internal security issues. We have seen technology place increasingly lethal power in the hands of non-state actors. The effects can range from the benign to the dangerous, though technology itself is value neutral,” it said.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Mar 27, 2018)

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Alarm over radicalised youth returning from Syria

With Islamic State and Al-Qaeda in Indian Sub Continent “have started” posing “new challenges” to the existing security environment, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has raised an alarm over the activities of radicalised people returning from conflict areas like IS-dominated Syria.

The MHA has given a note to the Parliamentary Committee on Estimates, which is part of the report tabled in Parliament earlier this week, in which it also flagged possible threats from lone-wolf attacks inspired by radicalised outfits.

In the note that forms part of the report on ‘Central Armed Police Forces and Internal Security Challenges — Evaluation and Response Mechanism’, the MHA raised concern over the terrorists using secure internet pathways to reach out to youths.

“Radicalisation of youth by terror outfits through the misuse of internet and social media, has emerged as a big challenge in recent times. The problem is further accentuated by the fact that the terror groups have started using secure social media platforms and proxy serversetc to avoid detection by intelligence and law enforcement agencies,” the note said.

The security establishment is also worried about the activities of radicalised people coming back from conflict-ridden areas. While acknowledging it as a challenge, the MHA note also said lone-wolf attacks, which were witnessed abroad, cannot be ruled out.

“The IS and Al-Qaeda in Indian Sub Continent have started posing new challenges to the existing security environment,” the report said quoting the MHA. It said the IS is using various platforms to propagate its ideology and to attract recruits from across the world and the security agencies are keeping a close watch on those “persons/preachers” misguiding the youth.

The MHA note, part of which appears in a section ‘Global Challenges for Internal Security’, also refers to the fight against terrorism emanating from Pakistan.

It talked about receiving indications on revival of Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), which is not active as it was earlier. The JeM has renewed efforts to “cause harm to India,” the note to the panel headed by veteran BJP MP Murli Manohar Joshi said.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Mar 22, 2018)

Nine in every ten Maoist incidents happen in 35 districts

Nine in every ten Maoist incidents happen in 35 districts of the country where naxals have an upper hand.

The latest figures provided by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on Tuesday showed that 804 of the 908 incidents reported in 2017 took place in these districts.

Sukma, which is in Chhattisgarh, reported the highest number of incidents at 102 among the 35 districts declared the most naxal affected. On March 13, a mine-protected vehicle had come under naxal ambush killing at least nine CRPF personnel in Sukma.

However, two districts — Muzaffarpur in Bihar and Khammam in Telangana — reported not a single incident last year.

Gadchiroli in Maharashtra had the second highest incident at 68 followed by Chattisgarh’s Bijapur (60), Jharkhand’s Latehar (59) and Chhattisgarh’s Narayanpur (58).

According to the written reply in Lok Sabha, the 35 most affected districts accounted for 88.5% of naxal related violent incidents. Just 20 districts accounted for 80% of the violence. Naxal violence were reported from only 58 districts across the country in 2017.

“There is no plan to involve the Army in the fight against Left Wing Extremism except for the ongoing training assistance. Helicopters made available for LWE affected States are used only for logistic purposes,” Minister of State for Home Hansraj Ahir said.

While the naxal violence is on the wane, the MHA recently told Committee on Estimates that the naxals are now “targeting new states and are trying to carve out the base at the tri-junction of Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu”.

In a document prepared by the MHA last year, it had said that the Maoists were trying to deflect the attention of forces away from Dandakaranya region, the naxal hotbed, by stepping up activities at the Chhattisgarh-Madhya Pradesh-Maharashtra tri-junction.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Mar 21, 2018)

Par panel cautions govt against excessive deployment of paramilitary forces

The excessive deployment of paramilitary forces in states for law and order duties will adversely affect its core areas of anti-insurgency and border guarding operations, a Parliamentary panel warned the government on Monday.

The Committee on Estimates led by veteran BJP MP Murli Manohar Joshi told the government that the “tendency” of states to look towards the Centre “even for day to day” law and order issues “need to be reversed.

In its report ‘Central Armed Police Forces and Internal Security Challenges — Evaluation and Response Mechanism’, the Committee said it was concerned to note the “heavy dependence” of states on paramilitary personnel. The number of deployment of paramilitary battalions has increased from 91 in 2012-13 to 119 in 2016-17.

It noted the central forces are “sometimes detained even after the task is over and are deployed continuously” in some of the states for holding elections. The panel said it indicated that a “gradual trend” of substituting state police with paramilitary forces.

“What is disturbing more is the situation whereby over deployment is likely to affect the anti-insurgency and border guarding operations, besides curtailing the training needs of these forces. Not only that, continuous deployment leaves little time for recuperation/rest thereby creating stress among the paramilitary personnel,” the report tabled in Parliament said.

The panel suggested that the states must develop their own systems and upgrade as well as augment their own police forces by providing adequate training and equipping them with state of the art weapons, and enable them to fight militancy and insurgency besides handling law and order.

It was critical of the state governments for not doing enough to contain internal disturbances and that they are heavily dependent on the Centre by frequently asking for paramilitary forces.

The panel noted that paramilitary personnel were working under constant pressure and difficult conditions. “Non-availability of state-of-the-art equipment and facilities like winter clothes to paramilitary personnel not only out them at disadvantageous position against the insurgents and terrorists but also compromise the security of the country,” the panel said.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Mar 20, 2018)

Defeat in UP bypolls: BJP sinks to silence

The BJP sank into silence on Wednesday as the bypoll results, especially the defeat in Gorakhpur and Phulpur Lok Sabha seats in Uttar Pradesh, took the sheen out of its victorious run in Tripura trampling the formidable Left Front.

If the north-east victories brought a new vigour to the saffron camp ahead of Karnataka polls, the BJP scoring a ‘zero’ in the bypolls to three Lok Sabha seats — the two seats in UP and Araria in Bihar — has brought back broad smiles in the Opposition camp.

The defeat in Gorakhpur and Phulpur — vacated by Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya after the UP Assembly polls last year — has brought a rude shock to the BJP with a senior BJP MP from the state mincing no words to describe it a “big referendum”.

While the leaders do not want to give much importance to the Opposition victories, the victory of the Samajwadi Party-BSP combine in both the seats has given them reasons to worry.

At least two senior leaders said if the SP-BSP combine continue to stick together and Congress joining it at a later stage would give BJP a strong fight in Uttar Pradesh in the next elections. One of them cited the Bihar experience where RJD and JD(U) were part of a Grand Alliance.

For BJP, a senior leader said, the UP was a saturation point in the last election as it had won 71 out of 80 seats. A united opposition would mean trouble for the party as one saw in the 2015 Bihar Assembly polls, he admitted.

Sources said the defeat in UP is more damaging as both the seats were held by the Chief Minister and Deputy Chief Minister. While Phulpur was first one by BJP in the last polls, Gorakhpur has been represented by Adityanath.

However, one section argues that the choice of Upendra Dutt Shukla, a Brahmin, was faulty and it was foisted on the seat by the central BJP leadership – Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah – against the wishes of Adityanath.

The loss to RJD in Araria Lok Sabha bypolls despite support from JD(U) also has rattled the party. The result also comes as a setback for JD(U), which came out of an alliance with RJD and Congress to join hands with BJP.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Mar 15, 2018)

Allocations for women safety scheme drastically cut: Par Panel

A Parliamentary panel has rapped the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) for its lack of seriousness in strengthening safety and security of women in the country, even as the crime against women are on the rise.

The comments comes as the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs led by former Home Minister P Chidambaram found that the allocations made for Schemes for Safety of Women has been “drastically” cut down from Rs 313.30 crore at Budget Estimates 2017-18 to just Rs 81.75 crore at Budget Estimate 2018-19. This amount is for whole country.

“The Committee is disappointed that the allocated amount of Rs. 22.69 crore (capital) could not be utilised completely due to which the allocation got substantially decreased to Rs.7.87 crore in Revised Estimates 2017-18. The Committee strongly disapproves of this lack of seriousness in strengthening the safety and security of women in the country,” the panel said.

Reminding the MHA that the Nirbhaya Fund was intended to implement schemes which are technology-driven and which will significantly enhance the security of women, the panel recommended that the Ministry should desist from allocating funds, which are granted under the Nirbhaya Fund, for the purposes that can be covered by normal spending.

“The Committee also recommends that at least one scheme should be implemented in every city under the Nirbhaya Fund to significantly enhance the security of women,” it said.

The panel was also “displeased to note” that the allocations made for border infrastructure and management have been constantly decreasing over the years.

“The Committee observes that the funds under this head were significantly decreased by Rs 560.16 crore at Revised Estimate stage in 2017-18 mostly due to delayed construction of infrastructure,” it said adding the MHA should “seriously go into the reasons for slow pace of work and poor utilization of funds”.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Mar 14, 2018)

Nothing much changed in naxal hot-bed

Exactly a year ago, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh called for an “introspection” on what led to the killing of 12 CRPF personnel in Chhattisgarh’s Sukma despite naxals suffering “unprecedented losses” in 2016. But, it seems nothing much have changed in the naxal hot-bed.

Official figures showed that naxal violence in Chhattisgarh is on the rise this year so far compared to corresponding period of previous year though the overall figure is on the decline.

According to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), there were 61 incidents in Chhattisgarh this year till February 15 as against 53 during the same period last year. While 15 people were killed in naxal violence this year, it was 17 in Chhattisgarh in 2017. Chhattisgarh also continue to be on the top of the list of naxal-infested states.

The attack on a mine-protected vehicle comes a year after a similar incident in Sukma when 12 CRPF personnel were ambushed.

Making a statement in Lok Sabha on 14 March, 2017, Singh then said, “there is a need for introspection on this incident. I have directed the Director General, CRPF to conduct a detailed enquiry into the incident so that the lapses that led to the incident can be identified which will reduce the possibility of repetition of such incidents in the future.” This time too, Singh has directed the CRPF chief to rush to the spot.

He had then said, “sustained operations by the Security Forces ensured that South Bastar districts, considered to be the nucleus of LWE strength witnessed a considerable fall in violence in 2016 (252 incidents as against 326 in 2015).”

In the latest budget, the government has earmarked Rs 1,344 crore for fighting naxals across the country and reaching out to people in Maoist-infested districts with development projects. The bulk of the allocation goes to projects proposed by states in 35 worst naxal-infested districts to tackle development issues.

Another Rs 200 crore is allocated for Security Related Expenditure (SRE) scheme for paying ex gratia to families of those killed in naxal violence, insurance premium of police, training and operational requirements, compensation for surrendered Maoists, security related infrastructure and other expenses of village defence committees.

The scheme is expected to reduce naxal violence and number of attacks on security personnel deployed in such areas.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Mar 14, 2018)

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