in post

23 July 2021

Yesterday we went to a musical retrospective, "Broken Prayer" on Leonard Cohen, held outdoors in the nearby town of Nataf. The atmosphere, under an almost-full moon, was wonderful, and the musicians (Avraham Cohen, Bat Hen Edri are the names that I remember) were good. They offered some interpretations and original compositions of their own, besides the well-known songs. Their rendition of the latter was sometimes flawed, notwithstanding, and there were some technical problems, but this did not affect our enjoyment. Their topic was Cohen's "continual dialogue with the Creator." They managed to bring to the forefront, some of Cohen's roots in traditional Jewish liturgical songs, etc.

Who cannot love Leonard Cohen and his peculiar mix of existential questioning and sensuality? But the audience were mostly older people of around our age; younger people are often completely unaware of him, which is a pity, because he brought something unique, precious and magical to his music.

Links and reflections

Covid-19 antibodies detected in 67% of India’s population - The Guardian

The US, the other day, removed India from its red list of countries, whereas Israel has kept it there. Although I had been thinking that it is either "political" or quite arbitrary that Israel has kept India on its red list, while placing the UK, for example, on its orange list, in light of these statistics, the Israelis probably have understood the situation better.

Parliament proceedings | No deaths reported due to lack of oxygen, Health Ministry tells Rajya Sabha - The Hindu

According to various reports in Indian media, no one believes him.


In 2019, IT House panel unsuccessfully tried to probe Pegasus breach - The Hindu

This is also true today.:

Centre Rejects Demand for Probe Into Snooping Allegations, IT Minister Calls Reports 'Over the Top' - The Wire

The BJP has been trying to use senior leaders including multiple party chief minister to try and change the narrative. As The Wire has reported, these leaders made wild claims about how these revelations are some sort of “international conspiracy” to “defame India”. However, none of them have categorically denied that the Indian government paid for Pegasus spyware.

Instead, they are saying:

Ban Amnesty over Pegasus leaks role... - The Guardian

Mamata Banerjee, the chief minister of West Bengal who recently defeated the BJP in state elections, urged the opposition parties of India to unite to challenge the “surveillance state” of the Modi government, and called Pegasus “dangerous” and “ferocious”.

“Three things make democracy: media, judiciary and the Election Commission – and Pegasus has captured all three,” said Banerjee, whose own nephew’s phone number was on the leaked data list.


India tax authorities raid media companies critical of Modi gov’t - Al Jazeera

Modi’s government has long been accused of attempting to stifle critical reporting in the world’s biggest democracy, something it denies. On Reporters Without Borders’ 2021 Press Freedom Index, India ranks 142nd out of 180 countries

Why India's Process for Authorising Surveillance on Citizens Is Deeply Flawed - The Wire

The alleged use Pegasus is only the latest example of how government has trampled on the individual rights of citizens using the excuse of fighting terrorism.

What this Wire story points out is that although the BJP has been more more brazen, earlier ruling parties have used the same tactics, and similarly surveilled their adversaries.

Likewise, Indian sensitivity towards outside criticism has a long history. India is not exceptional in that. Many countries bristle at criticism and “interference” from outside. Israel is a very good example - for example the current furor over Ben & Jerry's decision not to allow sales of its products in Israeli West Bank settlements.

The grain of truth in such sensitivity is that outsiders really do have a hard time understanding the complexities of any country's internal processes and needs. We can see how our outsider assumptions worked for us in the case of Burma. Aung San Suu Ki is probably the same person, the same politician, when she is at the mercy of the generals or at the head of the government. But at one time she is the world's darling and in the next moment maligned as a cruel oppressor of minorities (although she has been locked up for a second time, the world's reaction has been more muted this time).

When our outsider dreams for a given country come true, we are often disappointed that the long hoped-for happy end eludes us, and other problems that we didn't anticipate or had zero knowledge of, rear their ugly heads.

While staying true to our values, we also need to take time to understand complexity, and always maintain an attitude of humility, with relation to our comprehension of the situation in other countries. The knowledge and experience that we bring from our own home environment is not necessarily relevant to other places.

Telegram founder listed in leaked Pegasus project data - The Guardian

In his blog, on Telegram itself, Durov says a couple of interesting things:
He claims that Pegasus takes advantage of the same, or similar backdoors that Apple and Google deliberately built in their system, based on demands of the US government:

According to the Snowden revelations (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_surveillance_disclosures_(2013%E2%80%93present)) from 2013, both Apple and Google are part of the global surveillance program that implies that these companies have to, among other things, implement backdoors into their mobile operating systems. These backdoors, usually disguised as security bugs, allow US agencies to access information on any smartphone in the world.

The problem with such backdoors is that they are never exclusive to just one party. Anybody can exploit them. So if a US security agency can hack an iOS or Android phone, any other organization that uncovers these backdoors can do the same. Unsurprisingly, this is exactly what has been taking place: an Israeli company called NSO Group (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/jul/18/revealed-leak-uncovers-global-abuse-of-cyber-surveillance-weapon-nso-group-pegasus) has been selling access to the spying tools that allowed third parties to hack tens of thousands of phones.

That's why I have been calling upon the governments of the world to start acting against the Apple-Google duopoly in the smartphone market and to force them to open their closed ecosystems and allow for more competition.

Regardless of the so-called security of his messaging system, phones can never be trusted. He himself doesn't trust his phone:

Since at least 2018, I have been aware that one of my phone numbers was included in a list of potential targets of such surveillance tools (although a source from the NSO Group denies it). Personally, I wasn't worried: since 2011, when I was still living in Russia, I’ve got used to assuming that all my phones were compromised.

That kind of makes comparisons of the relative security of Telegram, Signal and WhatsApp, a bit redundant.


Israel launches commission to probe Pegasus spyware: Legislator - Al Jazeera

Israel's cyber-security industry is a lucrative cash cow, and much bigger and more important than any single company. When Israel takes action on such things, it is more likely to be motivated by public relations concerns than by a genuine wish to rectify the situation.