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Popular Messaging Apps ‘Failing to Protect Users’ Privacy’ claims Amnesty International

If you think instant messaging services are private, you are in for a big surprise as our communications are under constant threat from cybercriminals and spying by state authorities

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November 2, 2016: Amnesty looked at eleven of the most popular messaging apps and found big variations in security. Facebook messenger and WhatsApp were best with a score of 73/100.

“If you think instant messaging services are private, you are in for a big surprise. The reality is that our communications are under constant threat from cyber criminals and spying by state authorities. Young people, the most prolific sharers of personal details and photos over apps like Snapchat, are especially at risk,” said Sherif Elsayed-Ali, Head of Amnesty International’s Technology and Human Rights Team.

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He added, “WhatsApp uses a very strong encryption. It does a very good job by telling people what kind of encryption it chooses and how it protects people’s information.”

Conversely Skype, owned by software giant Microsoft, and Snapchat performed poorly. Elsayed-Ali said, “They don’t use end-to-end encryption which is essentially a kind of encryption that means only the sender and the receiver is able to read the messages.”

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Snapchat disputes Amnesty conclusions and says privacy and security are what it calls foundation values. Microsoft told VOA in a statement, “Skype uses encryption and a range of other technical security measures and we protect people’s privacy through legal challenges advocacy and strong policies to notify customers when we receive government requests for data.”

Amnesty says it’s not only personal privacy at stake. According to Elsayed-Ali, “Journalists all over the world who are trying to uncover corruption trial and abuses by government, activists who are resisting repression in their countries are being actively sought out by their governments who are trying to find their information to disrupt their work and often to imprison them or prosecute them.”

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Items like cars and home appliances are increasingly been connected to the internet, the so called Internet of Things (IoT). According to Amnesty, “There will be sensors everywhere with the Internet of things, maybe tens or hundreds of billions of sensors in our homes and in our cities. Listening in, collecting information all the time and if we don’t protect privacy now with things like very strong encryption, then there will be no privacy in the future.”

Bottom of the Amnesty’s rankings was the Chinese firm Tencent which owns the messaging apps WeChat and QQ. It scored zero out of 100. (VOA)

 

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‘In Absence of free thinking and Freedom of Expression, even Dreaming is a Battle’ : Forced to hide and flee the Country, the Sorry State of Secular Bangladeshi Writers and Bloggers

A report published in May by Amnesty International, the global human rights watchdog, slammed Bangladesh’s government for allegedly failing to protect secular writers against threats and stifling free speech

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Blogger Avijit Roy (left), poses with Ranadipam Basu outside the stall of the Shuddhashar publishing house at the Ekushey Book Fair, in Dhaka in February 2012. Roy was hacked to death by Muslim extremists three years later. Benar News

Washington, October 29, 2017 : Fear still stalks Bangladesh’s secular writers, even though 18 months have passed since the last in a series of brutal killings of activists and intellectuals by religious zealots in that country.

For two of these writers, one who fled aboard and another who chose to stay behind, the killings and an increasingly hostile atmosphere toward non-religious viewpoints forced them to change their lives, as they told BenarNews in interviews.

Writer Sobak Pakhi is hiding out in another South Asian country but he’s too afraid to reveal its name to the public, while colleague Ranadipam Basu is keeping a low profile back home.

“Free thinking and freedom of expression are practically gone now. … I don’t see any immediate hope … even dreaming is a battle now,” Ranadipam told BenarNews in response to a series of email questions.

Both men say they don’t feel entirely safe in their homeland because of a recent spate of murders by Muslim extremists who targeted secularist Bangladeshi intellectuals like them for questioning God’s existence, or using the written word to challenge the emerging influence of religious fundamentalists.

Pakhi is an editor of Mukto-Mona (Free Mind), a leading blog for free thinkers, rationalists, skeptics, atheists and humanists in Bangladesh, which he fled over what he described as the government’s support for those who kill secular bloggers and writers.

“Once they get the chance, they will attack me and then my case will also be considered as an ‘isolated incident’ in a country of 160 million people,” Pakhi told Benar.

“I won’t go back to the country in the future.”

Basu, an author of short stories, poems, essays and children’s books, tried to leave but said he came to see his fate as wed to staying on in Bangladesh. Yet he’s keeping a low profile because he worries about his family’s safety in light of the attacks in the recent past, he said.

Since February 2013, when secular activist and blogger Ahmed Rajib Haider was killed by extremists near his home in Dhaka, at least 10 writers, bloggers, publishers, activists and intellectuals have been slain in machete attacks by Muslim militants. All of the other attacks occurred in a spate that began in February 2015. The last one was the slaying of activist-law student Nazimuddin Samad in April 2016.

‘A lifetime target’

Although their country’s constitution declares Bangladesh a secular nation, both Sobak and Ranadipam voiced concern over what they described as the growing influence of the government’s acceptance of conservative Islamic organizations. They cited the relationship between Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Awami League party with an influential hardline Muslim group, Hefazat-e-Islam.

Pakhi, a graphic designer skilled at video editing, wrote articles about how he grew to doubt religion and became an atheist. In 2008, he saw Bangladesh as a tolerant country.

But as the years went by, he kept writing while facing death threats. He wrote about what he said was disrespect shown to women by religions; the promotion of killings and wars in religions; the use of religious rhetoric to create unstable situations; and the limitations of God and religion.

ALSO READ Bangladesh Saw ‘Significant’ Rise in Terrorism Last Year: US State Department

Threats grew as groups pressured authorities to remove his blog posts. “You do not understand now, but will regret later,” one threat stated.

Pakhi then turned to writing fiction.

“I wrote some short stories, satire and poems about the limitations of the concept of God. I started writing against fanaticism, the backwardness of religion, bigoted matters of mobs and extremism on ‘Facebook,’” he said.

When asked about government action against militants, Pakhi said the nation began targeting them long before the recent attacks on bloggers. He said the first crackdown occurred in 1989, adding that after a series of arrests, the government denied the existence of militant groups and secretly released those in custody for political expedience.

“The militancy issue in Bangladesh might go out of sight again, but my risk will not be neutralized because I am a lifetime target for them,” Pakhi said.

In his view, politics pushed Prime Minister Hasina to maintain a relationship with Hefazat-e-Islam, a fundamentalist group that has called for public executions and posted his picture on a banner. Hasina’s relationship with the group weakens opposition party Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), helping to strengthen her Awami League’s control of government.

“If a few atheist bloggers die or leave the country as a consequence of relationship between the government and Hefazat, it doesn’t really matter to Sheikh Hasina, because the deaths of a few atheists do not create any pressure on the government in a 90 percent Muslim-dominated country,” he said.

A couple of months before fleeing Bangladesh in 2015, Pakhi told an interviewer he had no plans to leave his homeland, adding that militants should be the ones to go. At the time, however, some Bangladesh police officers suggested that he exit the country.

“Whatever the government is saying about providing security to bloggers, those are lies, because after my departure, two bloggers and more than 10 progressive people were killed by militants,” Pakhi said. “I haven’t seen any positive effort from the government to stop those.”

He remains concerned about threats in his new country, but continues to write and refuses to censor himself.

“Several times I have thought about reducing the volume of my writing, but then I asked, why? Basically, keeping silent is frustrating and shameful. I shouldn’t do that. My writing will not be stopped,” Pakhi said.

Threats to free speech

A report published in May by Amnesty International, the global human rights watchdog, slammed Bangladesh’s government for allegedly failing to protect secular writers against threats and stifling free speech.

Amnesty cited a widely reported statement by Hasina that followed the August 2015 killing of secular blogger Niladri Chottopaddhya, who was known by the pen name Niloy Neel.

ALSO READ Meet Tuhin Das from Bangladesh: Poet, Activist and Writer in Exile

“No one in this country has the right to speak in a way that hurts religious sentiment. You won’t practice religion – no problem. But you can’t attack someone else’s religion,” Hasina said at the time. “It won’t be tolerated if someone else’s religious sentiment is hurt.”

Government officials rejected the Amnesty report, claiming it contained recycled information.

“The report is not a reflection of the latest situation in Bangladesh. We cannot accept this,” Civil Aviation Minister Rashed Khan Menon told BenarNews at the time.

Apart from secular writers, journalists in the country have also complained about what they say is a hostile environment for a free press, in which reporters and editors are vulnerable to threats.

On Thursday, the family of a missing Bangladeshi journalist, Utpal Das, held a news conference to plead to the government to help them find him. The reporter for the online news portal Purboposchchim BD News was last seen on Oct. 10, his family said.

The website he works for was one of several local and foreign news outlets that picked up a report on Sept. 23 alleging that the government had foiled a plot to assassinate Sheikh Hasina on Aug. 24. A day after the article came out, government officials issued a statement criticizing the report as fake news.

Survived attack

Basu, the writer who stayed in Bangladesh, survived one of two attacks on publishing houses in October 2015 that killed publisher Faisal Arefin Dipan.

“I can’t remember even a single thing about the attack,” Basu said, adding, “I don’t see any immediate hope coming out of this situation.

“I don’t go out unless it is essential, but whenever I go out, I can’t behave normally and naturally, I get panicked when I see any unknown faces, start fearing that they may attack me,” he said. “Maybe I have lost my trust of other human beings.”

At the same time, earning a living is tough, he said, because publishers don’t want to face the risk of publishing any book he writes.

“I haven’t stopped writing, but I don’t have any platform to publish. I can’t take the risk of publishing through online platforms, as I live in Bangladesh.”

Even though the government has cracked down on militant dens throughout Bangladesh, killing dozens of suspects since a terrorist attack at a Dhaka café last year, Basu said he did not see hope for those like him who remain in the country.

“Secular thinkers are really at a panic to express their opinions. On one side, there are threats and attacks from religious fundamentalists, and on the other side, intolerance and actions from the government to stop free thinking through blasphemy-type laws,” he told BenarNews.

Basu was skeptical that the killers of secular blogger Avijit Roy (pictured) and other non-religious thinkers would be brought to justice any time soon. Roy, a Bangladeshi-born U.S. citizen and author of several books challenging religious beliefs, was hacked to death as he and his wife were leaving the Ekushey book festival, the country’s most prestigious literary event, in February 2015.

“Those attacks were not sudden, emotional actions. There was a long-term destructive plan behind those – a plan to stop secular writers from one side and to create a panic among publishers to not to publish any secular works,” he said.

“A long time has passed, but any practical results of police actions are not visible yet. Therefore, writers and publishers are panicked and as a result, expression of free thinking has been completely stopped, Basu said, adding, “Why those suspected were not arrested or why a trial is not moving, I think only policy makers can answer those questions properly.”

Meanwhile, Basu frets about the security of his family, especially his school-age son.

“Some of my friends, even the media got the wrong impression that I have left the country like many others. I did not correct their misconception over security concerns,” he said. “That’s why I do not appear before media anymore and I can’t imagine revealing my whereabouts by seeking help from police in this unsecured land.” (Benar News)

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Stop Lecturing And Demonizing India over its Plan to Deport 40,000 Stateless Rohingya Muslims: Minister

The Rohingya are denied citizenship in Myanmar and classified as illegal immigrants, despite claiming centuries-old roots

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Rohingya refugee watch children attend madrass in a temporary shelter on the outskirts of Jammu, India, Wednesday, Aug.16,2017. VOA
  • Rights groups, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, have slammed India’s deportation plan as “outrageous”
  • The government says the Rohingya Muslims are illegal immigrants and should deported because they pose a potential security threat
  • There is no other country in the world which hosts so many refugees, so don’t demonize us, don’t give us lecture
Rights groups should stop lecturing and demonizing India over its plan to deport 40,000 stateless Rohingya and recognize that the country has treated millions of refugees from across the world humanely, a senior official said this week.

 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s right-wing government says the Rohingya Muslims who have fled to India because of persecution in Buddhist-majority Myanmar are illegal immigrants and should deported because they pose a potential security threat.

“India is the most humane nation in the world,” said junior interior minister Kiren Rijiju, defending an order to states to identify and deport the Rohingya — including 16,500 registered with the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR).

“There is no other country in the world which hosts so many refugees, so don’t demonize us, don’t give us lecture,” Rijiju said.

Hundreds of thousands have fled Myanmar, where they are marginalized and sometimes subjected to communal violence, with many taking refuge in Bangladesh — and some then crossing a porous border into Hindu-majority India.

FILE - Children of Rohingya refugees attend a temporary school run by a nongovernmental organization at a camp for Rohingyas in New Delhi, India, Aug. 16, 2017.
FILE – Children of Rohingya refugees attend a temporary school run by a nongovernmental organization at a camp for Rohingyas in New Delhi, India, Aug. 16, 2017. VOA

On Monday, Myanmar security forces intensified operations against Rohingya insurgents, following three days of clashes with militants in the worst violence involving the Muslim minority in five years.

Indian minister Rijiju said registration with the UNHCR was irrelevant.

India is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, which spells out states’ responsibilities toward refugees. Nor does it have a domestic law to protect refugees.

ALSO READ: Refugees in India Looming For Basic Rights: Here Is Why India Needs Refugee Law! 

The Rohingya will be sent back from India in a humane way, following due legal processes, Rijiju added.

“We are not going to shoot them, nor are we planning to throw them in the ocean,” he said Monday.

Rights groups, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, have slammed India’s deportation plan as “outrageous.”

Asia’s third-largest economy is bound by customary international law — the principle of non-refoulement — where it cannot forcibly return refugees to a place where they face danger, they say. (VOA)

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Equal Yet Divided? Feminists Maintain Silence Over Muslim Woman’s Choice to Not Wear Hijab: What’s Wrong With Present Day Feminists

The Western activist-feminists today are undoubtedly absorbed in struggles to liberate themselves from the grasp of the oppressive male hegemony

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Western feminists continue to defend a woman’s right to wear the hijab. Then why is little talked about girls who ‘choose’ to not wear it? Pixabay
  • Despite an active feminist movement, women in Islamic countries continue to remain outside areas of attention
  • Outrage emerged following Muslim chess player’s decision to not wear a hijab during a game, an issue that is yet to come under the radar of the Western feminists

August 22, 2017 : Unless you have been living under a rock, you would know the magnanimity of the worldwide feminist movement in support of women’s rights to be treated as equals irrespective of their nationality, religion or sexual orientation.

Upon comparison to the mainstream Western feminism, mentions of Islamic feminism do not occupy evident, or for what matter, visible part of conversations.

  • In 2014, artist Atena Farghadani was sentenced to an imprisonment of 12 years for posting a satirical caricature on Facebook as a protest against the proposed legislation against women’s rights and birth control. She was held guilty for ‘spreading propaganda’.
  • In 2015, 26-year old Iranian-British Ghoncheh Ghavami was arrested in Tehran for trying to attend a men’s volleyball match.
  • In 2014, Loujain al-Hathloul, a human rights defender in Saudi Arabia was first arrested for driving cars in a kingdom where it is forbidden. She was more recently re-arrested in June 2017, the exact reason for which has not been made public. However, Amnesty International believes the arrest has been made to curb her peaceful efforts to defend women’s rights.

Today, Farghadani, Ghavami and Loujain al-Hathloul have been reduced to mere names on a list of millions of women whose basic rights have been mercilessly desecrated.

But American feminists are yet to speak up about these injustices- they continue to be too occupied with their own victimization to raise voice against the injustices meted out to women like Farghadani.

The Western activist-feminists today are undoubtedly absorbed in struggles to liberate themselves from the grasp of the oppressive male hegemony. However, in their fights against phantom epidemics and unnecessary grievances, the gender activists today have deviated from the real fight against inequality.

ALSO READ Exclusive: 12 Sexist Remarks that Every Woman can relate to!

In the last two years, Western feminists have often turned to social networking platforms to raise issues, draw attention and mobilize support. While the increasingly global reach of  online networking sites like Twitter, and Facebook, and the inherent power of ‘hashtag activism’ can largely assist women find solidarity , the latest trend has been a far cry from the real cause.

In the last two years, some of the widely used hashtags were #FreeTheNipples, #LesPrincessesOntDesPoils or #PrincessesHaveHair and #BigUndiesOutForSam.

The former was a campaign to de-sexualize women’s breasts and the next promotes acceptance of body-hair on women. The third campaign drew support from women in favor of comfortable under-garments for women. Imagine, if the imprisoned Muslim women of Iran and Afghanistan, who lack political rights and are vulnerable to physical violence because of their faith, were to tweet, what would they say about these struggles? Will these be the issues they would raise, I doubt.

The World Economic Forum asserts an inverse relationship between women rights and states with Islam as dominant religion.

The Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2016 placed Islam as the dominant religion in the lowest ranking 44 states for women rights and equality (that means states un-supportive of womens’ rights). Evidently, in states that the report claims most supportive of women rights, the density of Islam followers is very low.

It will be wrong to say that because women in Islamic countries suffer at the hands of misogyny, the Western women should compromise with less serious prejudices. However, what needs to be highlighted is why feminist actions continue to be restricted to physical borders.  Women in different corners of the world today have one thing in common – their fight for basic rights as upheld in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Why then are the so-called liberal women’s rights activists only raising issues of one section of people and not for all?

In the Western liberal societies, the hijab has very recently emerged as a symbol of resistance to Islamophobia, against policies from President Trump’s administration aiming to establish divisions between ‘them’ and ‘us’.  Western feminists have, since long, defended a woman’s right to wear the hijab. However, very little is talked about girls who ‘choose’ to not don the veil.

ALSO READ:  Being feminine: How far are we from understanding feminism in its real form

In January, Dorsa Derakhshani, an 18-year old Iranian chess grandmaster refused to wear a hijab at a tournament in Gibraltar and instead chose to wear only a headband. Her decision to defy the Iranian law which calls upon all women to wear a headscarf in public drew massive flack from staunch radical Muslims, following which she was kicked out of the national team.

The Somali born Ex-politician and feminist critic, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who herself wore the burqa as a teenager, strongly believes that the debate over the controversial head covering is no more about religious or cultural practices but about the equality of women. “Expecting half of humanity to go around covered in black sacks is just evil sexism,” she had written for a report published in The Australian.

The author has repeatedly expressed her concern over the apathetic stance of western feminists in support of liberal Muslim women for which she has been increasingly labeled as ‘Islamophobic’.

However, what needs to be understood here is that raising questions on cultural practices in Islam does not make one Islamophobic.

American philosopher, Martha Craven Nussbaum had rightly pointed out that the feminist theory heeds diminutive consideration to struggles of women outside United States. While this may come across as demeaning to some, that does seem like the present day state of affairs.

The need of the hour is to shatter the dominant opinion which holds that Islam and feminism are not consistent and that one can either be a Muslim or associated with feminism but not both. This, however, can only stem from a larger understanding that human rights- including rights of women, are meant for all and not just a few and definitely must not be restricted by religion.


 

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