Tuesday December 10, 2019
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US Army allows Sikh soldier to keep beard for now

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New York: In a rare religious accommodation to an active-duty combat soldier, the US Army has allowed a Sikh captain to grow his beard and wear a turban, a move that may have far-reaching implications for troops seeking to display their faith, a media report said.

Captain Simratpal Singh was forced to see his locks drop to the floor on his first day at the US Military Academy at West Point almost 10 years ago, as the army did not allow soldiers to have long hair or beard, the New York Times reported.

However, all this changed last week for Captain Singh, who believed his “self-image” was “cut away” after the army granted him a religious accommodation that will allow him to grow his beard and wrap his hair in a turban.

“It is wonderful. I had been living a double life, wearing a turban only at home,” said the Bronze Star awardee, who led a platoon of combat engineers who cleared roadside bombs in Afghanistan.

“My two worlds have finally come back together,” the NYT quoted him as saying.

The daily said it was the first time in decades that the military has granted a religious accommodation for a beard to an active-duty combat soldier — a move that observers say could open the door for Muslims and other troops seeking to display their faith.

But it is only temporary, lasting for a month while the army decides whether to give permanent status to Captain Singh’s exception.

However, the Sikh soldier told the NYT that he was prepared to sue if the accommodation is not made permanent.

“This is a precedent-setting case,” said Eric Baxter, senior counsel at the Becket Fund, a non-profit public interest law firm that specialises in religious liberty.

“A beard is a beard is a beard. If you let one religious individual grow it, you will need to do it for all religions.”

Army spokesperson Lt Col Jennifer R Johnson said the US Army does not comment on individual personnel decisions, but added that future requests for such accommodations would be evaluated “on a case-by-case basis, considering the impact on unit and individual readiness, unit cohesion, morale, discipline, and health and safety of the force”.

The US military has become increasingly inclusive, allowing gay men and lesbians to serve openly, and women to serve in combat roles. But it has held a stiff line on uniforms and grooming standards.

Bearded Sikhs fought in the US Army in World War II and Vietnam. Today, Sikhs in full religious garb serve in militaries around the world.

For centuries, Sikh teachings have required adherents to leave their hair and beard unshorn, and to wear a turban.

“It was a way to identify the Sikhs, who became a sort of military order that stood up against oppression,” said Kamaljeet Singh Kalsi, a doctor who is a major in the Army Reserve.

Major Kalsi got permission to grow a beard in 2009. He was the first of only three Sikhs to receive permission before Captain Singh.(IANS),

(Picture courtesy: NYT)

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TikTok Security Concerns Raised By U.S. Army

National security experts have raised concerns about TikTok’s collection and handling of user data

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Tik Tok logo is displayed on the smartphone
Tik Tok logo is displayed on the smartphone while standing on the U.S. flag in this illustration picture. VOA

The U.S. Army is undertaking a security assessment of China-owned social media platform TikTok after a Democratic lawmaker raised national security concerns over the app’s handling of user data, Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said Thursday.

Speaking to reporters at an event at the American Enterprise Institute think tank, McCarthy said he ordered the assessment after the top Democrat in the U.S. Senate, Chuck Schumer, asked him to investigate the possible risks in the military’s use of the popular video app for recruiting American teenagers.

“National security experts have raised concerns about TikTok’s collection and handling of user data, including user content and communications, IP addresses, location-related data, metadata, and other sensitive personal information,” Schumer wrote in a Nov. 7 letter to McCarthy.

Schumer said he was especially concerned about Chinese laws requiring domestic companies “to support and cooperate with intelligence work controlled by the Chinese Communist Party.”

Ryan McCarthy speaking about TikTok
Ryan McCarthy, the nominee to the Secretary of the Army, speaks during his Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing, in Washington. VOA

The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) has launched a national security review of TikTok owner Beijing ByteDance Technology Co.’s $1 billion acquisition of U.S. social media app Musical.ly.

TikTok did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The company has previously emphasized its independence from China but has failed to assuage congressional concerns about the security of the personal data of U.S. citizens who use the platform and whether content on the platform is subject to any censorship from Beijing.

In a Nov. 5 blog post, TikTok’s U.S. general manager, Vanessa Pappas, said that the company’s data centers “are located entirely outside of China.” She said U.S. user data is stored in the United States, with backup redundancy in Singapore.

ByteDance is one of China’s fastest-growing startups. About 60% of TikTok’s 26.5 million monthly active users in the United States are between the ages of 16 and 24, the company said this year.

Earlier this year, Schumer also called on the FBI and the Federal Trade Commission to conduct a national security and privacy investigation into FaceApp, a face-editing photo app developed in Russia.

ALSO READ: U.S. Army Sparks an Industry Battle After it Looks For Robots.

The potential for the sharing of army information through the use of apps was highlighted after researchers found in 2018 that fitness-tracking app Strava was inadvertently exposing military posts and other sensitive sites.

In 2017, the Army ordered its members to stop using drones made by Chinese manufacturer SZ DJI Technology Co Ltd because of “cyber vulnerabilities” in the products. (VOA)