Category: International

WhatsApp unveils ‘tipline’ to tackle fake news

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WhatsApp Tuesday unveiled its ‘Checkpoint Tipline’, where people can check the authenticity of information received as the messaging giant looks to crack down on fake news ahead of the general election in the country.

“Launched by PROTO, an India-based media skilling startup, this tip line will help create a database of rumours to study misinformation during elections for Checkpoint – a research project commissioned and technically assisted by WhatsApp,” the Facebook-owned company said in a statement. It added that starting Tuesday, people in India can submit misinformation or rumours they receive to the Checkpoint Tipline on WhatsApp (+91-9643-000-888).

Once a WhatsApp user shares a suspicious message with the tipline, PROTO’s verification centre will seek to respond and inform the user if the claim made in a message shared is verified or not. “The response will indicate if the information is classified as true, false, misleading, disputed or out of scope and include any other related information that is available,” the statement said.

This centre is equipped to review content in the form of pictures, video links or text and will cover English and four regional languages – Hindi, Telugu, Bengali and Malayalam. PROTO will also look at working with organisations at the grassroots level to submit misinformation circulating across different regions in India during the election period.

Facebook, which counts India as one of its largest markets with over 200 million users, had faced flak from the Indian government after a series of mob-lynching incidents, triggered by rumours circulating on WhatsApp, claimed lives last year. Under pressure to stop rumours and fake news, WhatsApp had last year restricted forwarding messages to five chats at once. It has also been putting out advertisements in newspapers and running television and radio campaigns offering tips to users on how to spot misinformation.

With ensuing general elections, the Indian government had warned social media platforms of strong action if any attempt was made to influence the country’s electoral process through undesirable means. Interestingly, the Indian government — through proposed changes in IT rules — is seeking to make social media platforms more accountable by mandating them to introduce tools that can identify and disable “unlawful content”.

One of the amendments being mulled in the IT intermediary rules (meant for online and social media platforms) will require them to enable tracing out of such originators of information as needed by government agencies that are legally authorised.

However, WhatsApp has so far resisted the government’s demand for identifying message originators, arguing that such a move would undermine the end-to-end encryption and the private nature of the platform, creating the potential for serious misuse. In its statement on Tuesday, WhatsApp said Dig Deeper Media and Meedan – which have previously worked on misinformation-related projects around the world – are helping PROTO to develop the verification and research frameworks for India.

Meedan has developed the technology to support the verification of rumours and will maintain the database of such content that has been processed. To do so, they have expanded their check platform (developed for recent elections in Mexico and France) and integrated it with the WhatsApp Business API, to receive and respond to messages at scale.

“The goal of this project is to study the misinformation phenomenon at scale — natively in WhatsApp. As more data flows in, we will be able to identify the most susceptible or affected issues, locations, languages, regions, and more,” PROTO founders Ritvvij Parrikh and Nasr ul Hadi said. The verification reports PROTO sends back will encourage grassroots-level “listening posts” to send more signals for analysis, they added.

Following the project, PROTO also plans to submit learnings to the International Center for Journalists to help other organisations learn from the design and operations of this project. “The research from this initiative will help create a global benchmark for those wishing to tackle misinformation in their own markets,” Fergus Bell, founder and CEO, Dig Deeper Media, said.

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3 Telugu Techies Charged in H1-B Visa Fraud in USA

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Three Indian-origin consultants have been charged in the US with visa fraud for allegedly submitting sham applications for H-1B visas to gain a competitive advantage over competing firms.

A federal grand jury last month indicted Kishore Dattapuram, of Santa Clara, Kumar Aswapathi, of Austin, Texas, and Santosh Giri, of San Jose, on 10 counts of substantive visa fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit visa fraud, the Justice Department said in a statement.

The H-1B visa programme allows foreign workers to obtain temporary authorisation to live and work for employers in the United States.

In order to secure an H-1B visa, an employer or other sponsor must submit an ‘I-129’ petition to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.

A petition and associated documentation must confirm the existence and duration of the job waiting for the worker, and describe key details including the wages associated with the position.

According to the eight-page indictment, Dattapuram, 49, Aswapathi, 49, and Giri, 42 operated Nanosemantics, Inc, a Santa Clara-based consulting firm whose services included placing skilled foreign workers at software and technology companies in the Bay Area. They worked together to submit fraudulent H-1B visa applications on behalf of foreign workers in order to gain a competitive advantage over competing firms.

The defendants allegedly used Nanosemantics to submit fraudulent I-129 petitions and obtain H-1B visas for workers that the defendants could later place at local companies.

By maintaining a group of available workers, the defendants would gain a competitive advantage over consultants that properly applied for paperwork only after matching a qualified worker to and available job.

According to the indictment, several of the I-129 petitions submitted by defendants stated that particular workers had specific jobs waiting for them at designated companies when, in reality, the defendants knew that these jobs did not exist.

Further, the defendants allegedly sought the cooperation of third parties to conceal their fraud.

For example, defendants allegedly orchestrated payments by Nanosemantics to at least one individual for permission to list his company as the employer for foreign workers even though Nanosemantics actually intended to place the workers elsewhere.

Further, defendants allegedly coached foreign workers and others, to respond to government inquiries in a way that would prevent the government from discovering the fraud.

The defendants were charged with one count of conspiracy to commit visa fraud and ten counts of substantive visa fraud.

The defendants were arrested last week in their respective towns of residence.

All three defendants entered pleas of not guilty and were released on bonds. They are next scheduled to appear on May 13, 2019, for a status conference before Judge Edward J Davila, US District Judge.

If convicted, the defendants face a maximum sentence of ten years, and a fine of USD 250,000, plus restitution if appropriate for each violation.

 

Russia urges India to join multilateral mechanism to stop arms race in outer space

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Days after India announced A-SAT missile launch, Russia has urged India to join the idea of developing a multilateral legally binding instrument for keeping outer space peaceful based on the Russian-Chinese draft treaty, with the support of a solid group of like-minded nations to prevent weaponization of outer space.

In a statement, Russia said, “We noted the test of anti-satellite weapons conducted by India on March 27, as a result of which an Indian spacecraft – a target – in a low earth orbit was hit by an interceptor ballistic missile.”

“We highlight the nondirectedness of this test against any specific country declared by the Indian leadership, as well as the reassurance of the continuity of New Delhi foreign policy to prevent the deployment of weapons in outer space and thereby the development of an arms race in it”.

Russia slammed the United States for weaponisation of outer space and believes India’s test is a result of a degraded situation in the field of arms race.

Russia, in its statement, said: “We have to state that this action of India has been largely the result of the substantially degraded situation in the field of arms control.”

“Russia has repeatedly warned that the destructive actions of the United States to undermine the entire architecture of international security and strategic stability, including unilateral and unlimited development of the US global anti-missile defense systems, as well as the reluctance to abandon plans for the weaponization of outer space, make other states think about improving their own equal potentials in the interests of strengthening their national security” the statement added .

Russia urged Washington to take a “responsible stand, come to senses and drop the insane, and most importantly – absolutely unrealizable – the idea of universal military domination.”

“It is still possible to stop the arms race unfolding in various regions of the world. It is important to assist the responsible states in maintaining an adequate level of international security and stability,” it added.

Russia said that for its part, it intends to continue to make all necessary efforts to prevent an arms race in outer space.

 

Pentagon denies US spying on India’s ASAT test

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The Pentagon has strongly denied the reports that the US spied on India’s anti-satellite or ASAT missile test by sending a reconnaissance aircraft from its base in Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean to monitor the development.

It, however, said that the United States was aware of India’s first test-fire of an anti-satellite missile.

“No US assets were spying on India. In fact, the US continues to expand its enduring partnership with India, resulting in enhanced interoperability and stronger economic ties,” US Defense Department spokesperson Lt Col David W Eastburn told news agency PTI.

Aircraft Spots, which monitors military air movements, had said that a US Air Force’s reconnaissance aircraft from its base in Diego Garcia went “for a mission in the Bay of Bengal to monitor India’s anti-satellite missile test”.

This was interpreted by many that the US spied on India’s ASAT test.

“I don’t think that it implies coordination between India and the US,” astronomer Jonathan McDowell from the prestigious Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics told news agency PTI on the Aircraft Spots report.

“This implies that the US intelligence community were aware of the test in advance because to some extent they’re spying on India,” he alleged.

“Everybody spies on their friends as well as their enemies. That’s the way the world works these days. It would be surprising if the US were not detecting or observing the launch site and aware of activities preparing for the test. So one assumes that they knew it was coming,” he claimed.

Mr McDowell, who is a staff member at the Chandra X-ray Center and author and editor of Jonathan’s Space Report, an e-mail-distributed newsletter documenting satellite launches, said he has not looked into the issue of the aircraft, but it is certainly not surprising that the US would fly a sensor aircraft to try and observe the test.

The Pentagon, however, strongly denied the spying allegation.

“It’s a relationship so strong that no topic is off limits,” Lt Col Eastburn said.

“Both nations enjoy shared principles regarding our respect of sovereignty, free and fair trade, adherence to international norms, and peaceful resolution of disputes,” he said.

Air Force Space Command Commander Lt Gen David D Thompson told US lawmakers on Thursday that the United States was aware that India’s ASAT test was coming.

“First of all, we knew it was coming because of flight bans that India had announced and information they published previously. The launch occurred at 1:39 AM EST,” he told members of the powerful Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces during a Congressional hearing.

“First of all, it was detected, characterised and reported by Air Force Missile Warning systems and Airmen at Buckley AFB. Immediately after the test (it struck the target vehicle), the Joint Space Ops Center and USAF 18 Space control Squadron began collecting information about the breakup of the vehicle,” Lt Gen Thompson said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had on Wednesday announced that India successfully test-fired an anti-satellite missile by shooting down a live satellite, describing it as a rare achievement that puts the country in an exclusive club of space super-powers.

The test made India only the fourth country in the world after the US, Russia and China to acquire the strategic capability to shoot down enemy satellites.

Donald Trump threatens to shut US-Mexico border, again

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President Donald Trump on Thursday again threatened to seal the US-Mexican border, claiming in a tweet that America’s southern neighbour is allowing illegal immigrants to cross unhindered.

“May close the Southern Border!” the president wrote.

“Mexico is doing NOTHING to help stop the flow of illegal immigrants to our Country. They are all talk and no action,” he said.

“Likewise, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador have taken our money for years, and do Nothing. The Dems don’t care, such BAD laws.”

The new threat to shut one of the world’s busiest borders, separating two countries with massive economic and cultural links, shows Trump is doubling down on his bid to make immigration a keystone of the gathering 2020 reelection campaign.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador rejected Trump’s criticism, telling journalists: “We are doing something on this issue.”

“We are going to help in every way we can. We don’t in any way want a confrontation with the United States,” he said.

But Lopez Obrador said a solution would depend on “fundamentally addressing the causes of migration.”

Trump will likely highlight the issue when he hosts a campaign rally in Michigan later Thursday.

On Wednesday, he referred to the need for more border walls to stop “people pouring in.”

“Other countries stand there with machine-guns ready to fire. We can’t do that,” he told Fox News. “We are building massive, many, many miles of walls right now, and we are gearing up to do many more.”

‘Unprecedented’

The US border protection agency commissioner, Kevin McAleenan, said Wednesday that the southwestern frontier faces “an unprecedented humanitarian and border security crisis.”

The worst spot, he said, is around El Paso, Texas, where agents have nowhere to put the large numbers of illegal border crossers they detain.

Nationwide, the border agency took in more than 12,000 migrants this week, it said, while just half that number would be considered already reaching “crisis level.”

With the agency on track to detain more than 100,000 people in March, “it would be the highest monthly total in a decade,” the agency said.

Overall, attempts to get across the border into the United States illegally are down substantially from a decade or more ago.

However, the last year has seen a surge and the general makeup of the arrivals has changed from single men to families and often small children — greatly complicating the task of authorities in providing basic services to detained migrants while their cases are decided.

Migrants are also appearing in greater numbers from Central America, rather than just Mexico, sometimes travelling in large groups dubbed caravans.

One is currently forming in Honduras, according to Mexico’s interior minister, Olga Sanchez Cordero. She said it could be “the ‘mother of all caravans’ and they think it might have more than 20,000 people.”

However, Honduran deputy foreign minister Nelly Jerez said there was “no indication” of such a group gathering. “We don’t have anything about that.”

Wall fight

The last time Trump threatened to close the Mexican border was in December, when a row over his demand for billions of dollars in wall funding was at its peak.

Democrats in Congress turned down the funding, arguing that Trump was exaggerating problems on the border for political gain. In retaliation, Trump refused to sign wider spending bills, leading to much of the federal government having to shut down for five weeks.

Trump finally declared a national emergency so that he could bypass Congress and unlock the money — a move drawing condemnation even from many of Trump’s Republicans.

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Indian-origin leader makes history in Canada Parliament

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Indian-origin Jagmeet Singh created history in Canada when he made his debut in the House of Commons as the first non-white leader of a major opposition party in the country.

The arrival of the leader, wearing a turban, into the house on Monday, cheered by all members, coincided with the induction of a senior woman member into Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet.

Singh, 40, the leader of the New Democratic Party, placed his hand over his heart as he walked into the House of Commons, the lower of house of Parliament, before the daily question period.

He was elected in federal by-elections held on February 25.

Singh, as an elected lawmaker, talked about last week’s terrorist attack on two mosques in New Zealand.

“I want to begin by expressing our solidarity with the people of New Zealand who are mourning the attack on Muslim brothers and sisters… in Christchurch,” he said.

About 50 people were killed last week in the Pacific country’s worst-ever mass shooting.

He then launched his first question about housing in Burnaby-South.

“I met a mom in Burnaby. She bought a home, but cannot afford to live there anymore. Her daughter has a good job, but only gets by because she lives in the basement. Her son does not see a future. Like too many Canadians, he has lost all hope,” Singh said.

“However, the prime minister is telling families like theirs to wait for help. I believe that better is possible. Will the government commit to building half a million new affordable homes?” he asked.

Prime Minister Trudeau responded by congratulating Singh for his entry into the Commons, before touting the government’s record on fighting poverty.

Singh’s remarks echoed the mood of the House on a crucial day when the prime minister was beleaguered by the resignations of his two key cabinet colleagues.

New Zealand mosque shooting Live Updates: 40 people killed, PM calls it terrorist attack

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A gunman opened fire on Friday prayers at a mosque in New Zealand killing many worshippers and forcing the city of Christchurch into lockdown as police launched a massive manhunt. New Zealand Prime Minister has said 40 people have been killed. Four people were also detained in connection with the mass shootings at two mosques

An intelligent 360-degree eye for your home

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Security is a major concern for all of us. While most residential societies have been forced to implement a CCTV network, the cameras can only spot incidents and cover areas that are on the outside. In a fast-paced world today, and with almost every household having working parents or partners, keeping an eye on the nanny or house help back at home is almost impossible. Installing CCTV cameras at home is one solution, but setting up the CCTV network at home is not as simple.

To make home security cameras simpler, IP cameras were first launched years ago, but implementing them too needed an engineer to setup a complete network at home, connecting it to the internet and giving out remote access to the owner, which was painstaking and expensive. With internet-based cameras today, things are even better and easier. Moreover, these cameras can be installed by almost anyone without the need of tech knowledge.

 

Infosys saw maximum rejections of H-1B extensions

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Indian IT companies were the worst affected in 2018 due to Trump administration’s revised rules for H-1B visa extension.

According to a report in the Economic Times, TCS, Infosys and Cognizant saw the maximum rejection of H-1B extension applications as revised rules favoured American technology firms.

According to the ET report, Bengaluru-based Infosys saw 2,042 rejections, followed by TCS at 1,744. US-headquartered Cognizant, which has a majority of its workforce in India, saw 3,548 rejections during 2018, highest for any company. These numbers were released by Centre for Immigration Studies, a US think tank, after an analysis of the H-1B data, the business daily said.

Six Indian companies — TCS, Infosys, Wipro, Cognizant, and the US arms of Tech Mahindra and HCL Technologies — accounted for nearly two-thirds of the rejections among the top 30 companies, the publication mentioned citing the think tank, which analysed data put out by US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

The above six firms got just 16%, or 2,145, H-1B work permits, less than the 2,399 visas that only Amazon bagged in 2018. Cognizant, TCS, Infosys and Wipro together saw 7,933 H-1B rejections while top 30 tech firms, including Indian IT companies, saw 13,177 rejections, the business daily mentioned.

It may be noted that H-1B visas, which are used mainly by technology companies to send their employees to work in US, are initially given for three years with the option of an extension for a similar term.

US-based tech firms, such as Microsoft, Amazon and Apple, increased their H-1B workforce during the year, while net reductions were imposed on the big Indian firms, such as Cognizant, Tata and Infosys, the Centre for Immigration Studies said in its study that was put out on March 6.