Tuesday, November 23 2021

Dive In


I agonized. I'm not ashamed to say that I actually prayed over what is the appropriate sentence in this case because there was great pain. There was great harm. There were multiple crimes committed in the case...It seems to me that a sentence that involves incarceration or partial incarceration isn't appropriate, so I am going to sentence you to probation.

That’s a US judge issuing a sentence of eight years of probation—with zero prison time—to a man who pleaded guilty to the rape and sexual assault of four teenage girls. This despite the fact that one of the girls testified that he "told her to stop being such a baby" when she started to cry during the rape. It’s a reminder that survivors are at the mercy of the patriarchal whims of a single judge everywhere in the world. 


Coming up soon: We are very excited to announce our next Ask Me Anything session with the brilliant Manu Pillai—the author of some of the best books on Indian history including ‘Ivory Throne: Chronicles of the House of Travancore’, and most recently ‘False Allies: India’s Maharajahs in the Age of Ravi Varma’. Time/Date: 6:30 pm on Saturday, November 27, via Zoom. Sign up here for one of the limited slots.

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Big Story

A worrying new data protection law

The TLDR: The joint parliamentary committee report submitted its recommendations for a long overdue law that protects your data—from everybody except the government.  We look at why Opposition parties are unhappy, and for good reason. 


First, some background 

  • In 2017, the Supreme Court recognised the right to privacy as a fundamental constitutional right—and directed the government to create a framework to protect citizens’ data. 
  • In 2019, the government introduced the Personal Data Protection Bill that set the basic ground rules for how personal data should be collected and stored. 
  • It also proposed the creation of a new regulatory agency, the Data Protection Authority (DPA) —which will monitor the implementation of the law. 
  • A Joint Parliamentary Committee was set up to study the provisions of the bill and give its recommendations—and it submitted its report yesterday.


The bill: requires companies to do the following:


  • Tell you about their data collection practices and seek your consent—and store evidence of such consent.
  • Create a system that allows you to withdraw your consent.
  • Give you the right to access, correct, and erase your data.
  • Make changes to protect your data better—and in a manner where privacy is a key consideration in how the business is organized.
  • Ensure all “sensitive personal data” is stored in India and that “critical personal data” is not transferred out of India. 


Point to note: The bill imposes hefty penalties for violations: Rs 15 crore or 4% of the annual turnover of the company that controls the storage of your data. Also: A fine of Rs 5 crore or 2% of the annual turnover if the company fails to conduct a data audit.


Ok, so what did the report say?

The report did not challenge the crux of the bill but recommended adding new provisions. Let’s start with the rules for social media companies. The government recently implemented new rules to more closely control social media platforms (explained here). The JPC report recommends a slew of new restrictions. 


One: Social media companies—which do not act as ‘intermediaries’—should be held responsible for content shared on their platform, and for content from unverified accounts.The key word is ‘intermediaries’—because IT laws grant a ‘safe harbour’ exemption to the likes of Twitter and Facebook so they are not held responsible for what users say or do on their platforms. But this signals that the government is moving toward yanking that protection—or at least making it easier to do so.


Point to note: The government already gave itself the power to require social media platforms to take down content it does not like—and cancel their ‘intermediary’ status if they fail to comply. So this new provision just tightens that screw.


Two: No social media platform should be allowed to operate unless the parent company handling the technology sets up an India office. Again, this will essentially force all platforms to comply with the strict IT rules for news, streaming and social media companies with offices here—including the creation of a three-tier grievance system.


Three: A new media regulatory authority should be set up to regulate content on all platforms—be it online, print or otherwise. The new IT rules envisioned the creation of an industry-wide organisation headed “by a retired judge of the Supreme Court, a High Court or independent eminent person and have not more than six members.” The JPC report goes one step further.


What about protection from government snooping?

Headlines that matter

The Paytm bloodbath continues

The company’s share slipped 27% on the first day—and another 13% on the second day, wiping out Rs 56,233 crore ($ 560 million) from its market value. The shares have now dropped as much as 40% from its IPO price. Also doing badly: Reliance stock after its big oil deal with Saudi consortium Aramco was called off. Meanwhile, Sensex and Nifty witnessed the worst single-day plunge in seven months. Quartz has more on what this means for the Indian stock market. Mint explains how Paytm’s performance is hurting Mobikwik. ICYMI: Read our explainer on Paytm’s dismal IPO here.

El Salvador’s big plans for Bitcoin City

El Salvador in September became the first country in the world to adopt bitcoin as legal tender. President Nayib Bukele is doubling down on that bet. He plans to build the world's first Bitcoin City—funded initially by bitcoin-backed bonds. Residents will not have to pay any taxes except value added tax (VAT). And the entire city will be designed to look like a bitcoin symbol from the air.  Also this: "This is a fully ecological city that works and is energized by a volcano." (Reuters)


One key health study

We all know about the ill effects of sleeping too little. Now, a new study reveals that sleeping more than 6.5 hours is also bad—and is associated with cognitive decline over a period of time. What’s interesting about this: Typical recommendations for a good night’s sleep range between seven-eight hours. (The Print)


One thing to see

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson addressed the Confederation of British Industry—and kinda got lost in the midst of his speech… and tried to compensate by talking about his visit to Peppa Pig World. You can watch a compilation of the best moments here or the entire speech here. (Euro News)


In today’s edition

Sanity Break 

  • A 1780 painting: ‘A Prince Restrains a Rampaging Elephant’


A list of intriguing things

  • Say hello to the DogPhone
  • The sisterhood of the travelling red dress
  • Thaely: An Indian footwear company turns plastic bags and bottles into sneakers
  • The oddest trend in apparel: The Jurse

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