More than 70 US lawmakers urge Biden to raise ‘areas of concerns’ with Modi

Yashwant Raj (IANS)–

More than 70 Democratic members of the US Congress on Tuesday urged President Joe Biden in a joint letter to raise “areas of concern” in his meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

President Biden and Prime Minister Modi are scheduled to hold a private meeting on Wednesday night, followed by further meetings.

President Biden and First Lady Jill Biden will host Prime Minister Modi at a state dinner later on Thursday.

“As longtime supporters of a strong US-India relationship, we also believe that friends can and should discuss their differences in an honest and forthright way,” the lawmakers said in the letter, adding, “That is why we respectfully request that — in addition to the many areas of shared interests between India and the US — you also raise directly with Prime Minister Modi the areas of concern.”

They added: “Credible reports reflect troubling signs in India toward the shrinking of political space, the rise of religious intolerance, the targeting of civil society organisations and journalists, and growing restrictions on press freedom and internet access.”

The joint letter was led by Pramila Jayapal, an Indian-American leader of the Progressive Caucus of the Democratic party in the House of Representatives, and Senator Chris Van Hollen, who went to school in India for a few years.

They were joined among others by Senators Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Richard Durbin; and Representatives Jerrold Nadler, Grace Meng, Elissa Slotkin, Seth Moulton, Linda Sanchez and Maxwell Frost.

The lawmakers also cited US reports to underscore their concerns.

“The State Department’s 2022 Country Report on Human Rights Practices in India documents the tightening of political rights and expression. Similarly, the State Department’s 2022 Report on International Religious Freedom in India details the worrisome increase in religious intolerance towards minorities and religiously motivated violence by both private and state actors.”

They further cited Reporters Without Borders to say that “India, a country that has been known in the past for its vibrant and independent press, has fallen significantly in the rankings for press freedom”.

They added, Access Now, which tracks curbs on internet access, rates India as first in terms of the most internet shutdowns for the fifth year in a row.

The lawmakers welcomed Prime Minister Moi’s visit and wrote, “We want a close and warm relationship between the people of the United States and the people of India. We want that friendship to be built not only on our many shared interests, but also on shared values.”

They also made clear, perhaps in view of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s recent visit to the US, “We do not endorse any particular Indian leader or political party – that is the decision of the people of India – but we do stand in support of the important principles that should be a core part of American foreign policy.”

The lawmakers urged Biden that “during your meeting with Prime Minister Modi, you discuss the full range of issues important to a successful, strong, and long-term relationship between two great countries”.

Indian American Hotmail Founder Launches A New Social Video App – Showreel

Sabeer Bhatia, the man who played a significant role in making email the default communication medium it is now, wants to change video content with his new social video app, Showreel.

The app can be used to create more natural video resumes for job applications that offer much more context than just text, but also to pitch a startup idea or just to find a partner for yourself.

The Hotmail co-founder, now a serial entrepreneur based in California, says the idea came in the middle of the pandemic when he saw his eight-year-old daughter effortlessly make TikTok videos.

“That sparked an idea. I said this is the future, video is the future of all content consumption. Can we do something to help the 1 billion unemployed people?”

However, the first version of Showreel was not a big success as the videos which came in response to text questions were not that natural. That’s when he decided to change the questions also into video and now in the app, the respondents answer questions that Bhatia asks, almost like a natural conversation.

“I believe in the next 10 years, rather than sending a resume to a prospective employer, you will be more likely to send a more effective video or a QR code that points to a video,” says Bhatia, explaining how this format helps companies cut down on recruitment time by helping filter candidates faster.

Also, at some point, the AI layer will kick in and show candidates that align to the recruitment philosophy of the company, adds Bhatia, who has hired a team of engineers to help set up the product and take it to the next level.

With video, he says, the context is set and you subconsciously already know who you are going to talk to and what to expect. “Through a LinkedIn profile, you don’t know anything about the person. A picture says a few more things, but a video will complete him, you know, so it will be better for business interaction, not just for employment,” he adds, underling that this platform offers rich data that makes it more intelligent.

Beyond recruitment, startup’s and matrimony, Bhatia already sees the platform being used to take surveys, especially where people find the written text a stumbling block. He also thinks there will be applications in health too where he will get doctors to formulate the right questions to plug gaps in the health system.

Bhatia is already working with top companies as well as the global university system to plug this into their hiring and placement process. The app, available on both iOS and Android, can also be customized based on their requirements. He said language versions can be expected soon.

As for a business model, Bhatia is candid that he is yet to think of one. But if he solves the problem of connecting job seekers with employers and making it an easier process, monetization wouldn’t be a tough problem to solve.

Whatsapp CEO Says, India’s New IT Guidelines Are Regressive

As India tightens its stand on the social media platforms, Facebook-owned messaging app WhatsApp’s CEO Will Cathcart has said that the Indian government’s IT Rules of 2021 undermines the security of the users that the end-to-end encryption provides. In an interview with the US-based news portal Verge, when asked about the new Indian IT guidelines 2021, Cathcart said that if someone comes to WhatsApp and asks to find the originator of a specific text, then it is no longer private.

“With the IT rules in India, the specific thing those rules would require is us to build some system [to comply] if someone comes to us and says ‘Hey, someone said the words ‘XYZ.’ Tell us who the first person who said the words XYZ.” That’s not private. And it undermines the security that end-to-end encryption provides,” Cathcart emphasized. He added, “I think 10 years from now, even more of our lives will be online. Even more of our sensitive data will be online. There will be even more sophisticated hackers, spyware companies, hostile governments, criminals trying to get access to it. And not having the best security means that information is stolen. I think that has real consequences for free society.”

The WhatsApp CEO further added that at present, India is asking to find the first originator of the text, tomorrow some other country wants to push for it as well. “The more some countries see other countries do it, or push for it, the more they want to push for it, too,” he continued. The center of the issue is that as per the new IT guidelines, messaging platforms with more than a 5million user base in India need to enable the identification of the first originator of the information. The Indian government has said that the information will only be required for the purposes of prevention, detection, investigation, prosecution or punishment of an offense related to sovereignty and integrity of India, and others.

However, WhatsApp has sued the government alleging that WhatsApp texts are end-to-end encrypted and in order to identify the originator of a particular text, it has to break encryption for those who have sent and received messages. Back then, WhatsApp called it a threat to privacy. In the last hearing of the matter, the Delhi High Court issued a notice to the central government on WhatsApp plea challenging the traceability of the first originator of a message. On August 27, senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi appearing for WhatsApp had asked the division bench of Delhi chief justice DN Patel and justice Jyoti Singh to issue a notice to the Centre allowing the central government to file a response to the social messaging platform’s plea.

Complying with the new IT guidelines, WhatsApp in its latest compliance report revealed that it banned around 3 Mn Indian accounts between June 16 to July 31. WhatsApp has time and again been mired up in controversy in the country. The year started with a privacy policy update that allegedly allowed WhatsApp to share data to its parent company Facebook. The company faced severe criticism across the globe for this update and several governments including India asked the messaging platform to roll back the update, and the platform had to defer the rollout of the privacy policy update. However, the company clarified that the contentious policy update will look to address data sharing between WhatsApp and Facebook business accounts and nothing will change for personal chats.

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