Why 2019 Indian general election is likely to be influenced by foreign cyber actors

26th November, 2018: My ominous prophecy turned out to be true. But I could have never imagined Iran meddling like this. Read, Planet-scale influence operation strikes at the heart of polarised Indian polity.

Please challenge this hypothesis. I would like to be rebutted and told that this is just the work of my grandiose imagination.

India has been a hotbed of disinformation since the Cold War. Former R&AW chief Vikram Sood chronicles its history in his new book The Unending Game. He narrates how the KGB had “ten Indian newspapers and one news agency on their payroll and thousands of articles were planted.”

Legendary black ops specialist Bahukutumbi Raman had also recorded the scale of Soviet subversion, assessing the information gleamed from the Mitrokhin Archive.

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Digital Privacy and the Illusion of Choice – The Tribune

My second op-ed on privacy, published in the August 20 issue of The Tribune. Original title: Digital Privacy and the Illusion of Choice. Link.

Unknown to many, the draft Personal Data Protection Bill (PDPB) and its harbinger the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) are a crucial departure from how states have guaranteed privacy to their subjects. They mark a silent defeat against the pervasiveness of sensors that intrude our public and private lives, shifting the onus of accountability from the agents that produce to the agencies that consume.

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India’s Cyber Readiness: Former Deputy NSA Arvind Gupta’s New Book

Former Deputy National Security Advisor Dr. Arvind Gupta’s new book How India Manages Its National Security was released a few days ago. It has dedicated a chapter to ‘Cyber Security Challenges’ and fills a major gap in my understanding of the NDA government’s manoeuvring on cyber.

Beyond the glib and the rhetoric, very little has come out on the qualifiable and quantifiable assessment of nation’s cyber readiness and how the principals of the establishment perceive it. By design or accident, the UPA government actually had a more accessible interface to the then fledgling cyber apparatus, aided by press briefings, dossiers and, occasionally, media leaks – or this may very well reflect my own bias as I was a part of the system then.

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An oral history of the inapplicability of laws in cyberspace

A recent opinion piece of mine hasn’t gone down well with a clutch of lawyers at the helm of the privacy debate in India. I experienced a backlash of sorts in a Whatsapp group operating under the Chatham House rules, so I’m not in a position to share much. Apart from the fact that the article wasn’t even written keeping them in mind, the clutch imagining itself to be the sole torchbearer on the issue did disturb me. I was aspersed and told that I don’t know the meaning of “Hobbesian” and “Libertarian” – loaded words for someone like me to use, no doubt. What followed was a minor showdown of sorts. The comment did pinch me a little, not because I’ve invested in education to hone my legal knowledge, but because I’ve always known code and law to be the realm of autodidacts. Anyone can cook, code and interpret the law. I also feared that the group could be an echo chamber, and echo chambers kill republics. Continue reading “An oral history of the inapplicability of laws in cyberspace”

Policy as the Clausewitzean Continuation of Cyberwar

Part I

Nicholas Kristof’s July 4 opinion piece in The New York Times is a misleading contribution to the public discourse, especially at a time when the U.S. is battling the worst imaginable crisis in cyberspace. Kristof begins by painting the picture of an all-out cyberattack jamming the nation’s critical networks – symptomatic of the ‘Cyber Pearl Harbor’ mentality of overplaying the risk of a digital conflict. It even paralyzed decision-making at the top in the runup to the Russian disinformation campaign. Continue reading “Policy as the Clausewitzean Continuation of Cyberwar”

Digital privacy is a Faustian bargain – The Tribune

My opinion piece for The Tribune, published on 2 Aug, 2018. It’s an abridged version of my blog post, All roads of data sovereignty lead to a dystopia.

The draft of the data privacy Bill furnished by the Srikrishna Committee is an important first step in bolstering the digital civil liberties of citizens, but it cannot address the systemic weaknesses of cyberspace that are beyond the reach of any single government.

The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad describes the creative principle of the universe as neti-neti — not this, not that. It hints at the subtle symbiosis, the fluctuating nature of opposing forces. Digitised information, too, complies with this inherent non-duality.

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All roads of data sovereignty lead to a dystopia

My take on the draft Indian data privacy bill. An abridged version of this piece was published by The Tribune. It was also cross-posted at Medianama.

Let’s take a step back from the constant quibbling between the activists and the government. The interests of a citizen, especially in cyberspace, are aligned with that of neither. But let’s first understand the political shape-shifting of the internet in the recent years.

This isn’t a reverberation from my echo chamber, but anyone who hasn’t violated privacy at scale or undertaken mechanised cyber offence would be divorced from the reality on the ground. Or at the least, if the structural dominance of offence in cyberspace isn’t accounted for as a variable in your privacy equation, then it would remain inapplicable in the majority of the cases.

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