1.Gender biased laws in India (Live Mint)

2.How to deal with cyber threat in pockets (Live Mint)

3.Melting ice (Indian Express)

1.Gender biased laws in India (Live Mint)

Synoptic line: It throws light as it is time to remove from the law all privileges and disadvantages that are based on gender. (GS paper II)

Overview

  • With violence decreasing and the knowledge economy growing, society is making progress towards gender equality. But there’s a long way to go, and the law plays an important role in shaping the way women are viewed. Unfortunately, our laws are not the most liberal. The Supreme Court’s notice to the government regarding Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), relating to adultery laws, has brought dated assumptions about gender to light.

Flawed notion

  • The three-judge bench was responding to a writ petition challenging the fact that the law allows the husband to initiate criminal proceedings only against his wife’s lover. It does not punish his wife, since it presumes that only a man can seduce a woman into a sexual act, and that it is the husband who has suffered due to the sexual relationship of his wife, carried out without his consent. At the same time, the wife is not protected from similar behaviour committed by her husband.
  • The problem with this law, aside from the fact that it criminalizes adultery, is that it treats men and women differently. It perpetuates the notion that women are somehow naive, gullible, and lack the agency a man possesses. This caricature can be seen in other laws too.
  • For example, the law criminalizes consensual sex between minors as rape committed by the boy; women are legally entitled to maintenance from their father until they get married, while boys are only allowed this until they are 18; if a woman dies without a will, the Hindu inheritance laws put the rights of her husband’s heirs above those of her parents; women cannot be jailed for not filing their income tax; and marital rape is considered an oxymoron.

Constraints on women freedom

  • It cannot be denied that most women’s freedoms in this country are trampled on in the name of security. Women can’t be certain of their safety while stepping out alone in the dark, travelling far away from home is discouraged, public transport is unsafe, and male-dominated jobs invite predatory behaviour.
  • These are serious constraints on a good life, and they are caused by one major issue the state’s failure to provide security. It is the state’s fundamental duty to protect the life and property of citizens from physical injury. In the absence of adequate policing and a slow judiciary, women are exposed to threats from the physically stronger gender, and it is the men in their family and friends who end up providing security.
  • This establishes the subordination of women to men in other domains of life whether it is to fathers, brothers or husbands.

State’s action

  • In the light of its failure to provide security, the state has resorted to protecting the interests of women through ad hoc provisions that are counterproductive. Take the recent legislation mandating paid maternity leave of 26 weeks and crèche facility in companies hiring more than 50 employees. The law intends to benefit working women, but the second-order effects of the piece of legislation will likely be that firms will hire fewer women, and pay those they hire less salary to compensate for the maternity benefits.
  • The law furthers several stereotypes as well that all women want to have babies, that all women want 26 weeks of paid leave, that it is only the woman’s job to take care of the newborn. Even if some or most women want those things, firms cannot know who those women are in advance, so “marriageable-age” women will continue to be discriminated against.
  • The domestic violence and dowry laws are meant to check ill-treatment of women. But the law undercuts due process, and puts the husband and his family in jail in response to a written letter from the wife accusing them of assault. This is similar to the situation in US colleges, where students have been expelled after allegations of sexual misconduct, using the lowest possible burden of proof, a preponderance of evidence often described as just over a 50% likelihood of guilt.
  • Instead of being a progressive agent, the state has used the law to perpetuate cultural practices. Take the divorce law, for example. If relationships are abusive, it should be easy for the parties to leave them.
  • But till as recently as September 2017, the Hindu Marriage Act, which defines marriage as a religious sacrament instead of a contract, required that even couples seeking divorce through mutual consent demonstrate that they had tried to work on their marriage, and wait for at least six months after they had first filed for divorce. Now, it is conditional upon events that have transpired before the appeal.
  • There is, however, still no provision for divorce on grounds of ‘irretrievable breakdown of marriage’a standard practice in other countries. Despite this, the rising divorce rates are a good thing as they indicate that women are increasingly able to walk out of bad marriages.

Way ahead

  • In a civilized society, physical strength should not determine your options in life. In the West, more social progress on gender equality has been made because women are relatively freer to live independent lives. The process is likely to be no different in India.
  • At the same time, it is clear that gender-based laws are like a double-edged sword. Sometimes, the conservatives wield it to preserve our culture, at other times, progressives take positive discrimination too far. Maybe it’s time to shelve the tool, and remove from the law all privileges and disadvantages that are based on gender.

Question It cannot be denied that most women’s freedoms in this country are trampled on in the name of security.  Comment.

 

2.How to deal with cyber threat in pockets (Indian Express)

Synoptic line: It throws light on how most free apps seek to exploit user data and get omnibus permissions to do so from their users. (GS paper III)

Overview

  • Smartphones have become ubiquitous, and are forcing us to re-imagine the contours of privacy and data protection. This is for several reasons: we carry our phones everywhere we go, we use them for accessing critical services including banking and payments, we use them to store personal and sensitive data, to access our social networks and emails, and many apps are connected to servers and facilities that consumers and governments, often have no line of sight to.

Increasing vulnerabilities

  • Reports of phone hacks, theft of personally identifiable information and user-tracking, misguidance of consumers and evasion of law, by stakeholders within the digital ecosystem, has become an everyday phenomenon. The Indian smartphone user is particularly vulnerable.
  • The sheer pace of expansion of the smartphone market in India is unparalleled. Over 110 million new smartphones are added here every year making India the world’s second largest smartphone market. Smartphone penetration is a key metric against which the success of India’s digital economy is often measured.

Urgency of regulation

  • The rapid scaling up of sales of electronic goods and services that our aspirational market allows calls for greater vigilance, as there are limited disincentives to errant behaviour. Chinese handset brands for instance, command more than half of India’s smartphone market share, and are often pre-loaded with bundled apps. Reports of malware and backdoors embedded in these nifty smartphones and apps, are particularly troubling.

Potential threats

  • The prospect of free products and services are very compelling for the best of consumers. Consequently, Indians are voracious consumers of “free” apps from Facebook and Google-run apps, which dominate digital advertising and direct their energies and algorithms to monetizing user data, to more pernicious Chinese-made apps like UC Browser, which have been linked to serious surveillance concerns.
  • The common thread in this spectrum is that most free apps seek to exploit user data and get omnibus permissions to do so from their users. Informed consent is the permission granted by users to app providers, in full knowledge of the possible consequences of the use of their data. Juxtaposed against complex terminology and lack of awareness about potential pitfalls, this “opt-in” framework may itself require revisiting.
  • Another Chinese app, which leverages the rather innate urge to take “selfies”, has an exclusive version for India, and is so attractive to consumers that many handset makers are bundling it with devices. This is despite evidence to suggest that the app leaks sensitive personal information to Chinese servers.
  • It gains extensive access to personal data and numerous features of smartphones: access to users’ GPS location, cell carrier information, Wi-Fi connection data, SIM card information and identifiers like the IMEI number, which can be used to track and actively monitor its users.
  • The government seems acutely aware of these context-specific risks, and has constituted cyber-security and data protection committees and working groups, which may help ring-fence the digital ecosystem. The B.N. Srikrishna Committee which has been tasked with creating a data protection framework for India is one such example.
  • However, laws and regulations cannot substitute for greater consumer awareness apps will continue to try to exploit lack of user awareness, even after obtaining legal sanction. And since technology will always outpace regulations, apps and phones can exploit national security vulnerabilities just as easily.
  • In 2014, the Indian Air Force red-flagged the use of Chinese origin smartphones by its personnel and their family members due to a “flaw” in the operating system causing automatic and unencrypted transfer of user data to servers located in China. This data leak could have revealed and compromised the location and movements of air force personnel and their families, jeopardising lives and the safety of security infrastructure. More recently, Indian troops posted along the Line of Actual Control have been issued a cybersecurity advisory to delete 44 apps, mostly of Chinese origin, to guard against espionage.
  • The national threat from bundled apps also extends to the content ecosystem. Bias in both the sequencing and substance of online content, available on apps such as UC News, can influence opinions of citizens at large. The US is finding out that Facebook campaigns were manipulated by Russian intelligence operatives the hard way. And Facebook is attempting to respond and show a higher degree of responsibility towards consumers by “flagging” paid advertisements.
  • However, can anyone expect similar apologetic behaviour by Chinese-origin apps and handset makers, even if found guilty of spreading false news, malware, spyware and so on? We wouldn’t hold our breath.

Way ahead

  • For netizens of a “mobile-first” economy, much greater caution and sensitivity is warranted. It is necessary for both policymakers and ordinary citizens to understand the security implications of using foreign origin smartphones with bundled, pre-installed apps.
  • We must not be naïve recipients of digital Trojansand must begin to put a price on our data and privacy. We can start to do so by making informed consumption choices and nurturing a healthy scepticism of “free lunches”

Question– Why it is necessary for both policymakers and ordinary citizens to understand the security implications of using foreign origin smartphones with bundled, pre-installed apps.

3.Melting ice (Indian Express)

Synoptic line: It throws light on the growing threats of ice cap melting. (GS paper III)

Overview

  • New research on the melting of Antarctic ice sheets has suggested a dramatically faster pace of melting than is currently believed to be occurring projections which, if they play out at the median level, could submerge land that is today home to nearly four times the combined population of Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru and Hyderabad, as per Census 2011.

New insights on ice melting

  • A “Plain Language Summary” of the research, which employs complex models of projection, says it links new Antarctic model results into a sea-level rise projection framework to examine their influence on global and regional sea-level rise projections and their associated uncertainties, the potential impact of projected sea-level rise on areas currently occupied by human populations, and the implications of these projections for the ability to constrain future changes from present observations.
  • In a summary of the research in the nonprofit online environment magazine Grist, the meteorologist Eric Holthaus wrote the study’s results pointed to two possible roadmaps:

1) a relatively steady but substantial rise in sea levels even if we sharply reduce global emissions, flooding 100 million people’s homes worldwide by the end of the century.

2) a wild-card world that could jeopardise civilisation itself if fossil fuels continue to dominate.

  • As per the study’s projection, “under a high greenhouse gas emission future”, the median global mean sea level could rise from ~80 cm to ~150 cm. Without protective measures, by 2100 (rising seas will) submerge land currently home to more than 153 million people.
  • The study’s mid-range estimate in the second scenario projects an almost 5-foot rise in sea levels by 2100. This was the worst-case scenario in a similar study by the same authors three years ago. At the high end, the new study estimates there’s a 10% chance that seas will rise more than 8 feet this century, enough to flood nearly every coastal city on Earth.

Conclusion

  • Melting polar ice due to global warming poses an existential threat to humanity. Enormous chunks of ice have broken off from the Antarctic ice shelf in recent years, and massive swathes of the Arctic have melted, with the meltwater raising sea levels.

Question–  How Melting polar ice due to global warming poses an existential threat to humanity.