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India’s battle with Pegasus tells a bigger tale of tech laws • The Register

Analysis NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware-for-governments keeps returning to the headlines thanks to revelations such as its use against Spain’s prime minister and senior British officials. But there’s one nation where outrage about Pegasus has been constant for nearly a year and shows little sign of abating: India.

A quick recap: Pegasus was created by Israeli outfit NSO Group, which marketed the product as “preventing crime and terror acts” and promised it would only sell the software to governments it had vetted, and for approved purposes like taking down terrorists or targeting criminals who abuse children.

Those promises are important because Pegasus is very powerful: targets are fooled into a “zero click” install of the software, after which their smartphones are an open book.

In July 2021, Amnesty International and French journalism advocacy organisation Forbidden Stories claimed Pegasus had been used well beyond its intended purpose, and claimed to have accessed a list of over 50,000 phone numbers NSO clients had targeted for surveillance.

Many were politicans, activists, diplomats, or entrepreneurs – jobs that are just not the sort of role NSO said it would let governments target with Pegasus.

Over 300 Indian residents made that list – among them opposition politicians, activists, and officers of the Tibetan government in exile.

NSO has offered no explanation, or theory, for how its promises turned to dust.

The New York Times reported Prime Minister Narendra Modi purchased Pegasus in 2017 as part of an overall weapons deal worth roughly $2 billion, but Indian politicians have resisted admitting to its acquisition or use.

The mere implication that India’s government had turned Pegasus against political opponents was dynamite and complaints poured in from those who felt they had been targeted.

Those complaints were heeded: in October 2021, India’s Supreme Court established a Technical Committee to investigate whether the national government had used Pegasus to target citizens illegitimately.

The Committee emerged after the government offered to investigate itself. The Court rebuffed that proposal, and referred to allegations of Pegasus’s deployment as an “Orwellian concern” [PDF]. It expressed concern that rights to both privacy and free speech had been breached, and also took an interest in whether a foreign entity had been involved in illegal domestic surveillance.

Political opponents have accused Indian prime minister Narendra Modi of treason and compromising national security, while supporters have cited “lawful interception” as justification for the spyware’s use.

Probes are under way into whether State governments also acquired Pegasus, and the software has also become part of a wider debate about data privacy.

“I think the conversation is continuing because there is a court case ongoing. Anytime something happens in the case, the conversation restarts,” Anushka Jain, a lawyer for New Delhi-based digital liberties organization Internet Freedom Foundation told The Reg. Her group is providing legal representation to two journalists targeted by Pegasus spyware.

Jain explained:

Logically, if NSO only sells Pegasus to governments, the malware must have either been used by the Indian government or against Indian citizens by a foreign government – a point noted by politicians, think tanks and nonprofits like the Internet Freedom Foundation, alike. Either way, they argue, the government is responsible for taking action.

As Rajya Sabha Member of Parliament and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) member Subramanian Swamy tweeted:

The Indian Supreme Court declared privacy as a fundamental right in 2017 on the basis of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. However, the bench clarified that a person’s fundamental right to privacy could be overridden by competing state and individual interests, or in other words, lawful interception.

“The judgment was hailed as a founding stone of privacy jurisprudence in India. It was also hailed as an opportune moment for stronger privacy of Indian citizens at a time when Digital India was gathering pace,” said Indian nonprofit The Software Freedom Law Center, India (SFLC-In) on social media.

The org, which describes itself as “Defenders of your Digital Freedom” believes that unfortunately not much has changed “in terms of actually safeguarding the privacy of Indian citizens and safeguarding them from unfettered state surveillance” since the 2017 ruling.

“The fight for stronger digital rights continues and has taken a sharper turn in the wake of the Pegasus scandal, lack of due stakeholder consultations, and bypassing legislative scrutiny to introduce unfettered technical solutions,” wrote SFLC-In in a Facebook post.

Laws that further address lawful interception, The Indian Telegraph Act and Information Technology Act, were written before spyware was even conceivable – as implied by the mention of Telegraphs.

Those laws allow for interception (in section 69) but not to the extent of hijacking and weaponizing a phone in the way Pegasus makes possible.

Meanwhile, Sections 43 and Section 66 of the same Act criminalize cybercrime and stolen computer resources.

“The Information Technology Act says that hacking is illegal, and Pegasus is essentially hacking because it takes over the entire phone and it collects all information that is on the phone, not just specific communication,” clarified Jain.

“However, that is a very broad interpretation of that provision, because that is describing hacking of a computer system, and [Indian law doesn’t have] any provisions for technology such as Pegasus.”

But India is debating such a bill – the Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019. The bill has been severely criticised at home and abroad and has not passed into law.

Jain explained that one reason for opposition to the bill is that it provides a lot of exemptions.

She said:

A catalyst

Jain told The Register that without a data protection law or a strong civil liability system, the only way forward for Indian citizens is to go to the constitutional court and claim their rights were violated.

The SFLC-In agrees that the courts are integral to change, which is why it is also supporting victims of the spyware in litigation.

As the organization wrote on their website:

Seeking rectification through the court system could establish the necessary data protection, hacking and digital rights laws, thereby creating a historical change. Of course, the laws could also not pass – or pass with inadequate protection – leaving folks like Jain and the SFLC-In looking for the next opportunity to work towards change.

While those groups continue to agitate for change, a new player has also taken aim at the Bill: in its annual assessment [PDF] of IP law around the world, The US Trade Representative rated it as likely to “undermine important IP protections in India”. The Trade Representative said the Bill’s flaws “are particularly acute given India’s outdated and insufficient legal framework for protecting trade secrets.”

“On this and other potential legislation affecting IP, the United States encourages India to undertake a transparent process that provides stakeholders with sufficient opportunity to comment.”

Those stakeholders’ positions are not hard to find. Nor is outrage about how the lack of a robust data law affords India’s government a loophole that could allow it to use Pegasus to target opponents.

Indian government policy calls for the nation’s tech firms to assume a greater role in global industry, and for wide use of digital government services. With its proposed law stalled, and key trade partners recommending its revision, both goals will be harder to achieve. ®

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European Startup Ecosystems Awash With Gulf Investment – Here Are Some Of The Top Investors

European Startup Ecosystem Getting Flooded With Gulf Investments

The Voice Of EU | In recent years, European entrepreneurs seeking capital infusion have widened their horizons beyond the traditional American investors, increasingly turning their gaze towards the lucrative investment landscape of the Gulf region. With substantial capital reservoirs nestled within sovereign wealth funds and corporate venture capital entities, Gulf nations have emerged as compelling investors for European startups and scaleups.

According to comprehensive data from Dealroom, the influx of investment from Gulf countries into European startups soared to a staggering $3 billion in 2023, marking a remarkable 5x surge from the $627 million recorded in 2018.

This substantial injection of capital, accounting for approximately 5% of the total funding raised in the region, underscores the growing prominence of Gulf investors in European markets.

Particularly noteworthy is the significant support extended to growth-stage companies, with over two-thirds of Gulf investments in 2023 being directed towards funding rounds exceeding $100 million. This influx of capital provides a welcome boost to European companies grappling with the challenge of securing well-capitalized investors locally.

Delving deeper into the landscape, Sifted has identified the most active Gulf investors in European startups over the past two years.

Leading the pack is Aramco Ventures, headquartered in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. Bolstered by a substantial commitment, Aramco Ventures boasts a $1.5 billion sustainability fund, alongside an additional $4 billion allocated to its venture capital arm, positioning it as a formidable player with a total investment capacity of $7 billion by 2027. With a notable presence in 17 funding rounds, Aramco Ventures has strategically invested in ventures such as Carbon Clean Solutions and ANYbotics, aligning with its focus on businesses that offer strategic value.

Following closely is Mubadala Capital, headquartered in Abu Dhabi, UAE, with an impressive tally of 13 investments in European startups over the past two years. Backed by the sovereign wealth fund Mubadala Investment Company, Mubadala Capital’s diverse investment portfolio spans private equity, venture capital, and alternative solutions. Notable investments include Klarna, TIER, and Juni, reflecting its global investment strategy across various sectors.

Ventura Capital, based in Dubai, UAE, secured its position as a key player with nine investments in European startups. With a presence in Dubai, London, and Tokyo, Ventura Capital boasts an international network of limited partners and a sector-agnostic investment approach, contributing to its noteworthy investments in companies such as Coursera and Spotify.

Qatar Investment Authority, headquartered in Doha, Qatar, has made significant inroads into the European startup ecosystem with six notable investments. As the sovereign wealth fund of Qatar, QIA’s diversified portfolio spans private and public equity, infrastructure, and real estate, with strategic investments in tech startups across healthcare, consumer, and industrial sectors.

MetaVision Dubai, a newcomer to the scene, has swiftly garnered attention with six investments in European startups. Focusing on seed to Series A startups in the metaverse and Web3 space, MetaVision raised an undisclosed fund in 2022, affirming its commitment to emerging technologies and innovative ventures.

Investcorp, headquartered in Manama, Bahrain, has solidified its presence with six investments in European startups. With a focus on mid-sized B2B businesses, Investcorp’s diverse investment strategies encompass private equity, real estate, infrastructure, and credit management, contributing to its notable investments in companies such as Terra Quantum and TruKKer.

Chimera Capital, based in Abu Dhabi, UAE, rounds off the list with four strategic investments in European startups. As part of a prominent business conglomerate, Chimera Capital leverages its global reach and sector-agnostic approach to drive investments in ventures such as CMR Surgical and Neat Burger.

In conclusion, the burgeoning influx of capital from Gulf investors into European startups underscores the region’s growing appeal as a vibrant hub for innovation and entrepreneurship. With key players such as Aramco Ventures, Mubadala Capital, and Ventura Capital leading the charge, European startups are poised to benefit from the strategic investments and partnerships forged with Gulf investors, propelling them towards sustained growth and success in the global market landscape.

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China Reveals Lunar Mission: Sending ‘Taikonauts’ To The Moon From 2030 Onwards

China Reveals Lunar Mission

The Voice Of EU | In a bold stride towards lunar exploration, the Chinese Space Agency has unveiled its ambitious plans for a moon landing set to unfold in the 2030s. While exact timelines remain uncertain, this endeavor signals a potential resurgence of the historic space race reminiscent of the 1960s rivalry between the United States and the USSR.

China’s recent strides in lunar exploration include the deployment of three devices on the moon’s surface, coupled with the successful launch of the Queqiao-2 satellite. This satellite serves as a crucial communication link, bolstering connectivity between Earth and forthcoming missions to the moon’s far side and south pole.

Unlike the secretive approach of the Soviet Union in the past, China’s strategy leans towards transparency, albeit with a hint of mystery surrounding the finer details. Recent revelations showcase the naming and models of lunar spacecraft, steeped in cultural significance. The Mengzhou, translating to “dream ship,” will ferry three astronauts to and from the moon, while the Lanyue, meaning “embrace the moon,” will descend to the lunar surface.

Drawing inspiration from both Russian and American precedents, China’s lunar endeavor presents a novel approach. Unlike its predecessors, China will employ separate launches for the manned module and lunar lander due to the absence of colossal space shuttles. This modular approach bears semblance to SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, reflecting a contemporary adaptation of past achievements.

Upon reaching lunar orbit, astronauts, known as “taikonauts” in Chinese, will rendezvous with the lunar lander, reminiscent of the Apollo program’s maneuvers. However, distinct engineering choices mark China’s departure from traditional lunar landing methods.

The Chinese lunar lander, while reminiscent of the Apollo Lunar Module, introduces novel features such as a single set of engines and potential reusability and advance technology. Unlike past missions where lunar modules were discarded, China’s design hints at the possibility of refueling and reuse, opening avenues for sustained lunar exploration.

China Reveals Lunar Mission: Sending 'Taikonauts' To The Moon From 2030 Onwards
A re-creation of the two Chinese spacecraft that will put ‘taikonauts’ on the moon.CSM

Despite these advancements, experts have flagged potential weaknesses, particularly regarding engine protection during landing. Nevertheless, China’s lunar aspirations remain steadfast, with plans for extensive testing and site selection underway.

Beyond planting flags and collecting rocks, China envisions establishing a permanent lunar base, the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS), ushering in a new era of international collaboration in space exploration.

While the Artemis agreements spearheaded by NASA have garnered global support, China’s lunar ambitions stand as a formidable contender in shaping the future of space exploration. In conclusion, China’s unveiling of its lunar ambitions not only marks a significant milestone in space exploration but also sets the stage for a new chapter in the ongoing saga of humanity’s quest for the cosmos. As nations vie for supremacy in space, collaboration and innovation emerge as the cornerstones of future lunar endeavors.

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Aviation and Telecom Industries Reach Compromise on 5G Deployment

The Voice Of EU | In a significant development, AT&T and Verizon, the two largest mobile network operators in the United States, have agreed to delay the deployment of 5G services following requests from the aviation industry and the Biden administration. This decision marks a crucial compromise in the long-standing dispute between the two industries, which had raised concerns over the potential interference of 5G with flight signals.
The aviation industry, led by United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby, had been vocal about the risks of 5G deployment, citing concerns over the safety of flight operations. Kirby had urged AT&T and Verizon to delay their plans, warning that proceeding with the deployment would be a “catastrophic failure of government.” The US Senate Commerce Committee hearing on the issue further highlighted the need for a solution.
In response, US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) head Steve Dickson sent a letter to the mobile networks, requesting a two-week delay to reassess the potential risks. Initially, AT&T and Verizon were hesitant, citing the aviation industry’s two-year preparation window. However, they eventually agreed to the short delay, pushing the deployment to January 19.
The crux of the issue lies in the potential interference between 5G signals and flight equipment, particularly radar altimeters. The C-Band spectrum used by 5G networks is close to the frequencies employed by these critical safety devices. The FAA requires accurate and reliable radar altimeters to ensure safe flight operations.

Airlines in the US have been at loggerheads with mobile networks over the deployment of 5G and its potential impact on flight safety.

Despite the concerns, both the FAA and the telecoms industry agree that 5G mobile networks and airline travel can coexist safely. In fact, they already do in nearly 40 countries where US airlines operate regularly. The key lies in reducing power levels around airports and fostering cross-industry collaboration prior to deployment.
The FAA has been working to find a solution in the United States, and the additional two-week delay will allow for further assessment and preparation. AT&T and Verizon have also agreed to not operate 5G base stations along runways for six months, similar to restrictions imposed in France.
President Joe Biden hailed the decision to delay as “a significant step in the right direction.” The European Union Aviation Safety Agency and South Korea have also reported no unsafe interference with radio waves since the deployment of 5G in their regions.
As the aviation and telecom industries continue to work together, it is clear that safe coexistence is possible. The delay in 5G deployment is a crucial step towards finding a solution that prioritizes both safety and innovation. With ongoing collaboration and technical assessments, the United States can join the growing list of countries where 5G and airlines coexist without issue.

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