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Passport Services Integrated With DigiLocker for Paperless Documentation




By Press Trust of India | Updated: 20 February 2021

Inaugurating the “DigiLocker” platform for the “Passport Seva Programme” of the Ministry of External Affairs, Union minister V Muraleedharan on Friday said it would enable citizens to submit the documents required for passport services in a paperless mode and they would not be required to carry the original documents. Speaking at the event, the minister of state for external affairs said the “Passport Seva Programme” has brought in huge transformation towards the delivery of passport services in the country.

“This has seen a sea change in the last six years. The monthly submission of applications has crossed the one million-mark for the first time in 2017. I am told that more than seven crore passports have been issued through the Passport Seva project till date,” he said.

“We took several significant steps to improve the service delivery experience for the citizens. Not only the work of simplifying passport rules has been achieved but also, we have worked towards taking passport services closer to the doorstep of the citizens,” Muraleedharan added. Noting that starting passport seva kendras in head post offices was a step in this direction, he said as a result of that, 426 post office passport seva kendras (POPSKs) have been operationalised and many more are in the pipeline. This, when added to the 36 passport offices and 93 existing passport seva kendras, makes a total of 555 passport offices for the public, the minister said.

To give further fillip to the citizen-centric approach and enhance the passport service experience in a paperless mode, “we have now successfully integrated into the DigiLocker platform of the government”, he said. This would enable citizens to submit the documents required for passport services in a paperless mode through DigiLocker, Muraleedharan said, adding that now, they are not required to carry the original documents. “I would also like to add here that as a next step, we are working on the idea of a passport to be included as one of the documents in DigiLocker.

Moving forward, I am confident that this will help the citizens to retrieve the passport whenever required,” he said. In case of loss of passport and while reissuance, this facility will be of great help, the minister pointed out. DigiLocker is a flagship initiative of the Ministry of Electronics and IT (MeitY) under the Digital India Corporation (DIC). DigiLocker aims at “digital empowerment” of citizens by providing access to authentic digital documents in their digital document wallet.

The issued documents in the DigiLocker system are deemed to be at par with original physical documents. “We are also working towards rolling out e-passports for the citizens that are designed to increase security, making it more difficult to tamper with the data recorded on a passport, thereby limiting the chances of fraud,” Muraleedharan said. In the coming years, biometric passports would help improve immigration processes at airports that are equipped with automatic e-passport gates, he added. In the upcoming Passport Seva Programme V2.0, the use of emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, chatbot, analytics, robotic process automation (RPA) will further ease the experience of the citizens and lead to expeditious service delivery, the minister said. With the availability of the DigiLocker facility now, the citizens do not have to look for the original documents to carry with themselves when they are away from home, he said.

“I welcome all the citizens to use the DigiLocker facility and make the passport application process paperless,” Muraleedharan said. For the ease of the Indian diaspora abroad to avail passport services smoothly, the government has integrated 150 Indian missions and posts in foreign countries into the Passport Seva project, he said.

“The government under (Prime Minister) Narendra Modi has been giving due importance to realising the full potential of Digital India. Digital India is transformational, it brought in public accountability through mandated delivery of the government’s services electronically and minimised the interaction between officials and citizens. “I am confident that leveraging the DigiLocker for passport services would ensure ease of access for all citizens,” the minister added.

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Apple Users May Spend More on Non-Gaming Mobile Apps by 2024: Sensor Tower




By Reuters | Updated: 23 February 2021 11:35 IST

Apple’s customers may end up spending more on non-gaming mobile apps by 2024, data analytics firm SensorTower said on Monday, as lockdown lifestyles result in users looking beyond games to apps that help with more essential services.

Downloads of business, education, health, and fitness apps have seen a sharp spike due to the stay-at-home measures during the health crisis.

During the initial days of the pandemic, users spent more on mobile games in the App Store. But as lockdowns got extended, upending work life as well as the ways of communication, their attention shifted to photo and video-sharing, dating, video-conferencing, and instant messaging apps.

Shares of companies such as Zoom Video Communications and Match Group and other stay-at-home companies soared last year.

SensorTower said consumer spending on mobile apps will reach $270 billion (roughly Rs. 19,53,790 crores) in the next five years globally, a more than three-fold increase when compared with 2020.

Apple customers will outspend their Android counterparts with the App Store expected to generate $185 billion (roughly Rs. 13,39,370 crores) in global revenue, the data analytics firm said.

Games revenue will continue to take a relatively higher share on Google Play store than the App Store, with a projected 71 percent share from games in 2025 compared to 42 percent on the App Store, data showed.

The data analytics firm expects Europe to become a key market over the next five years, with revenue growth in the continent likely to outpace that in Asia and North America.

Downloads in Europe are expected to grow to 36.9 billion by 2025, compared with 28.4 billion in 2020, while revenue growth is expected to more than double to $42 billion (roughly Rs. 3,04,070 crores) in the next five years.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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WhatsApp to Move Ahead With Privacy Update Despite Backlash, Will Display Banner With Additional Information




By Reuters | Updated: 19 February 2021

Facebook’s WhatsApp said on Thursday it will go ahead with its controversial privacy policy update but will allow users to read it at “their own pace” and will also display a banner providing additional information.

The messaging platform laid out fresh terms in January, aimed at increasing business transactions on the platform.

The policy update would allow owner Facebook and its subsidiaries collect user data, including their phone number and location, which sparked a global outcry and a rush of new users to competitors Telegram and Signal, among others.

WhatsApp then moved to delay the new policy launch to May from February and sought to clarify the update was focused on allowing users to message with businesses and would not affect personal conversations, which will continue to have end-to-end encryption.

In its latest blog post, WhatsApp said it will start reminding users to review and accept updates to keep using the messaging platform.

“We’ve also included more information to try and address concerns we’re hearing,” it added.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Clubhouse Emerges as Platform for Thai Dissidents, Government Issues Warning




By Reuters | Updated: 18 February 2021

Thailand warned users of Clubhouse on Wednesday not to break the law after the audio social media app emerged almost overnight as a platform for discussion of the monarchy, the latest example of the fast-growing app drawing the ire of governments in Asia.

Digital minister Puttipong Punnakanta said the Thai authorities were watching Clubhouse users, and political groups on the app were distorting information and potentially violating laws.

A large number of Thai users joined Clubhouse in recent days after Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a prominent Japan-based critic of the Thai palace, joined on Friday and started discussing the monarchy.

Clubhouse, launched last year, lets users host audio chats. It has surged in popularity in the past couple of months, especially after Tesla CEO Elon Musk appeared on it last month.

“What needs to be spoken will be spoken. It is risky but it must be encouraged, as the more we speak about it the more such discussions become the norm,” Pavin, who had gained more than 70,000 followers in his first five days on the app, told Reuters. “These exercises help boost courage.”

Youth protests last year focused on demands for reforms to the royal system in Thailand, a subject long considered taboo. Since the protests started, at least 59 people have been summoned or charged under Thailand’s “lese majeste” law against insulting or defaming the king.

Audience grows

The Thai government regularly uses a cyber crime law to prosecute critics of the monarchy on national security grounds. It has previously cracked down on such criticisms on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter.

Pavin’s audience grew from around 300 on Friday to over 12,000 on Tuesday night, when he discussed King Maha Vajiralongkorn in a room that quickly reached the app’s maximum capacity. Other rooms criticising the Thai government and the use of the lese majeste law are also popular, with many exiled critics speaking about their experiences.

The app’s quick rise has drawn the attention of other governments in the region. Earlier this month, China blocked access to the app after a brief period when thousands of mainland users joined in discussions often censored in China, including about Xinjiang detention camps and Hong Kong’s National Security Law.

Some Hong Kong pro-democracy activists have gained thousands of followers on the app, although users there appear so far to have stopped short of hosting public discussions about reviving protests that might attract Beijing’s wrath.

On Wednesday, Indonesia said Clubhouse had yet to register with authorities and could be banned if it failed to comply with local regulations.

Indonesia, which compels tech platforms to register, has already banned Reddit, Vimeo, and scores of pornography sites.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Telecom Gear Manufacturing to Get a Major Push as Government Approves Over Rs. 12,000-Crore PLI Scheme




By Press Trust of India | Updated: 17 February 2021

The government on Wednesday approved a Rs. 12,195 crore production-linked incentive (PLI) scheme for telecom gear manufacturing in India, a move that will position the nation as a global powerhouse for production of such equipment ahead of 5G roll-outs.

The PLI scheme for telecom gear manufacturing, will be operational from April 1, 2021.

It will lead to incremental production of around Rs 2.4 lakh crores with exports of around Rs. 2 lakh crores over five years. The scheme is expected to bring investment of over Rs 3,000 crore and generate huge direct and indirect employment and taxes both, an official release said.

Briefing reporters after a meeting of the Cabinet, Communications Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said that the government is positioning India as a global powerhouse for manufacturing, and has created a conducive environment for ease of doing business.

“Cabinet has approved PLI for telecom sector…to ensure further progress of Make-in-India in telecom equipment space…5G equipment will also come…so it was important to give incentives. We held widespread consultation with stakeholders,” Prasad said adding that the scheme also aims to promote MSMEs in “Aatmanirbhar Bharat”.

The scheme is expected to offset huge imports of telecom equipment worth more than Rs 50,000 crores and reinforce it with “Made in India” products both for domestic markets and exports, the release said.

The new scheme has an outlay of Rs. 12,195 crores over five years, and its eligibility will be subject to achievement of a minimum threshold of cumulative incremental investment and incremental sales of manufactured goods.

The incentive structure ranges between 4 and 7 per cent for different categories and years. Financial Year 2019-20 will be treated as the base year for computation of cumulative incremental sales of manufactured goods net of taxes, the release added.

Minimum investment threshold for MSMEs has been kept at Rs. 10 crores and for others at Rs. 100 crores.

“Once qualified, the investor will be incentivised up to 20 times of minimum investment threshold enabling them to utilise their unused capacity,” the release said.

Prasad said that government will soon come up with PLI scheme to encourage production of laptops and tablet PCs.

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WhatsApp, Centre Gets Supreme Court Notice on Plea Over Lower Privacy Standards for Indian Users




By Press Trust of India | Updated: 15 February 2021

The Supreme Court Monday asked the Centre and WhatsApp to reply to a fresh plea alleging lower standards of privacy for Indians in comparison to European users saying it is the duty of the judiciary to protect citizens’ privacy.

People have grave apprehensions that they will lose their privacy and it is our duty to protect them, the top court said.

“You may be two or three trillion companies but people value their privacy more than money,” a bench headed by Chief Justice S A Bobde told WhatsApp even as it sought to argue that Europe has special data protection laws which India doesn’t.

The apex court issued notice to the government and the Facebook-owned app on an interim application filed by Karmanya Singh Sareen in a pending petition of 2017.

Senior advocate Shyam Divan, appearing for the petitioner, argued that the messaging app was applying lower standards of privacy for Indians and they be barred from sharing data with Facebook.

The bench observed, “We are impressed by Mr. Divan’s argument that it was proposed before us that a data protection law would be brought into force.

“Now under this policy you will share data of Indians.”

Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for WhatsApp, contended that Europe has a special law (General Data Protection Regulation) and it will follow law if the Parliament makes it a similar law.

The bench, also comprising Justices A S Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian, said that citizens have great apprehension about loss of their privacy and they think that their data and chats being shared with others and it has to be looked into.

The Centre told the apex court that the social media apps cannot share data of users and data must be protected.

The petitioner challenged privacy policy alleging that there is huge metadata of users which is being shared for profit.

The top court had in 2017 referred social media platform WhatsApp’s privacy policy matter to a Constitution bench saying it concerns the larger issue of privacy and right to personal liberty.

The appeal filed in the apex court by Karmanya Singh Sareen and Shreya Sethi assailed the Delhi high court verdict on the ground that no relief was granted for data shared by users post-September 25, 2016, and it amounted to an infringement of fundamental rights under Article 19 (Freedom of Speech and Expression) and 21 (Right to Life) of the Constitution.

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Clubhouse Says Reviewing Data Protection Practices After Report Points to Security Flaws




By Reuters | Updated: 13 February 2021

The US audio-only social media app Clubhouse said it is reviewing its data protection practices after a report by the Stanford Internet Observatory said it contained security flaws that left users’ data vulnerable to access by the Chinese government. The app said in a response to the study, published by the research group at Stanford University, that while it had opted not to make the app available in China, some people had found a workaround to download the app which meant the conversations they were a part of could be transmitted via Chinese servers.

“With the help of researchers at the Stanford Internet Observatory, we have identified a few areas where we can further strengthen our data protection,” the company said in a statement published by the research group on Friday. “Over the next 72 hours, we are rolling out changes to add additional encryption and blocks to prevent Clubhouse clients from ever transmitting pings to Chinese servers. We also plan to engage an external data security firm to review and validate these changes.”

Clubhouse did not immediately respond to a request from Reuters for further comment on Saturday.

Launched in early 2020, the app saw global user numbers soar earlier this month after Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Robinhood CEO Vlad Tenev held a surprise discussion on the platform.

Masses of new users joined from mainland China, taking part in discussions on topics that included sensitive issues such as Xinjiang detention camps and Hong Kong’s National Security Law. But their access to the app was blocked last week, triggering frustration and fears of government surveillance. The Stanford Internet Observatory said that it had confirmed that Chinese tech firm Agora supplied back-end infrastructure to Clubhouse, and that Agora would likely have access to users’ raw audio, potentially providing access to the Chinese government.

It also said it observed room metadata relayed to servers it believed were hosted in China and audio to servers managed by Chinese entities. It added, however, that it believed the Chinese government would not be able to access the data if the audio was stored in the US.

Agora did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment while the Cyberspace Administration of China, which regulates the country’s internet, did not respond to calls for comment made during China’s Lunar New Year holiday.

“SIO chose to disclose these security issues because they are both relatively easy to uncover and because they pose immediate security risks to Clubhouse’s millions of users, particularly those in China,” the report said.

Data analytics firm Sensor Tower said the app, which is only available on Apple’s iPhone, had about 3.6 million users worldwide as of February 2, with 1.1 million registered in the prior six days.

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