Monthly Archives: January 2014

U.S., British spy agencies exploit ‘leaky’ apps for intel

Thanks;(Reporting by Jim Loney; Editing by David Storey, Bernard Orr)

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. and British intelligence agencies have plotted ways to gather data from Angry Birds and other smartphone apps that leak users’ personal information onto global networks, the New York Times reported on Monday.

It was citing previously undisclosed intelligence documents made available by fugitive American spy agency contractor Edward Snowden.
The Times said the U.S. National Security Agency and its British counterpart, the Government Communications Headquarters, had tried to exploit increasing volumes of personal data that spill onto networks from new generations of mobile phone technology.
Among these new intelligence tools were “leaky” apps on smartphones that could disclose users’ locations, age, gender and other personal information.
The U.S. and British agencies were working together on ways to collect and store data from smartphone apps by 2007, the newspaper reported.
The agencies have traded methods for collecting location data from a user of Google Maps and for gathering address books, buddy lists, phone logs and geographic data embedded in photos when a user posts to the mobile versions of Facebook, Flickr, LinkedIn, Twitter and other services, the Times said.
Snowden, who is living in asylum in Russian, faces espionage charges in the United States after disclosing the NSA’s massive telephone and Internet surveillance programs last year.
His revelations and the resulting firestorm of criticism from politicians and privacy rights activists prompted U.S. President Barack Obama to announce intelligence-gather reforms on January 17, including a ban on eavesdropping on the leaders of close allies and limits on the collection of telephone data.
The Times report said the scale of the data collection from smartphones was not clear but the documents showed that the two national agencies routinely obtained information from certain apps, including some of the earliest ones introduced to mobile phones.
The documents did not say how many users were affected or whether they included Americans.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said U.S. surveillance agencies were only interested in collecting data on people considered a threat to the United States.
“To the extent data is collected by the NSA through whatever means, we are not interested in the communications of people who are not valid foreign intelligence targets, and we are not after the information of ordinary Americans,” Carney told a regular White House news conference.
Any such surveillance was focused on “valid foreign intelligence targets … I mean terrorists, proliferators, other bad actors (who) use the same communications tools that others use,” he said.

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Google’s Gmail down for users around the world

Thanks;Editing by David Gregorio, Bernard Orr)

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Google Inc suffered a service outage on Friday that briefly took down Gmail, the Internet email service used by hundreds of millions of people and many businesses across the globe.

Google, which first acknowledged the outage at 11:12 a.m. Pacific Time (19:12 GMT), said roughly one hour later that service had been restored for some users and it expected “a resolution for all users in the near future.”

It remained unclear what triggered the outage, which affected users in at least India, Britain and the United States and prompted a stream of complaints on Twitter from users in many more countries.

“We’re investigating reports of an issue with Gmail. We will provide more information shortly,” the company said on its “App Status” dashboard online, which tracks the state of various Google services.

Two other Google properties, the social network Google Plus, and YouTube, appeared to load slowly as well.

Yahoo Inc , which runs a rival Internet mail service, seized the moment to post a screenshot of the Gmail error page to Twitter.

Google users attempting to sign on saw a “temporary error” message and a brief note: “We’re sorry, but your Gmail account is temporarily unavailable. We apologize for the inconvenience and suggest trying again in a few minutes.”

Life on a ‘Death River’ in Bangladesh

Vaniceseasonal's Blog

THANKS;Monday, January 20, 2014 | By Sara Distin
Image

Springing from the banks of the Buriganga River, Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, is a burgeoning megacity. Already one of the biggest and most densely populated cities in the world, Dhaka is also among the fastest growing. The teeming metropolis — like so many ancient cities — initially flourished in large part because of its proximity to a great river; the Buriganga’s countless boats and launches provided easy access to other parts of India, making Dhaka a prime location for trade. The Buriganga was also, at one time, the city’s primary source of drinking water.

Today, the river is terribly toxic; the Bangladesh government estimates that about 21,000 cubic meters of untreated industrial sewage is released into its waters every day. According to Human Rights Watch, residents in neighboring slums regularly suffer from fevers, skin diseases, respiratory problems, and diarrhea. The dire contrast between what the…

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Life on a ‘Death River’ in Bangladesh

THANKS;Monday, January 20, 2014 | By Sara Distin
Image

Springing from the banks of the Buriganga River, Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, is a burgeoning megacity. Already one of the biggest and most densely populated cities in the world, Dhaka is also among the fastest growing. The teeming metropolis — like so many ancient cities — initially flourished in large part because of its proximity to a great river; the Buriganga’s countless boats and launches provided easy access to other parts of India, making Dhaka a prime location for trade. The Buriganga was also, at one time, the city’s primary source of drinking water.

Today, the river is terribly toxic; the Bangladesh government estimates that about 21,000 cubic meters of untreated industrial sewage is released into its waters every day. According to Human Rights Watch, residents in neighboring slums regularly suffer from fevers, skin diseases, respiratory problems, and diarrhea. The dire contrast between what the river once was — a literally life-giving force — and what it has become caught the attention of Italian-born photojournalist Ugo Borga.

Borga came across Human Rights Watch’s October 2012 report, Toxic Tanneries, which details the health and safety crisis among tannery workers in Bangladesh. The report also notes that tannery wastewater contaminates the Buriganga with animal flesh, sulfuric acid, chromium, and lead. The photographer then spent two months researching the region before embarking on a 20-day trip to Bangladesh. As part of a still-ongoing project started in September 2013, Living on the Death River, Borga photographed and interviewed workers and people living near the Buriganga, chronicling the human and environmental catastrophe unfolding there.

In his statement about Living on the Death River, Borga quotes Jamil Sharif, activist and founder of Buriganga River Keeper: “Buriganga gave life to Dhaka,” Sharif says, “and Dhaka killed it.”

UN: Iran Invited to Attend Syrian Peace Conference

20131223-200131.jpgThanks;TIME WORLD

By  Jan. 19, 2014

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The United Nations says Iran has been invited to attend a meeting of foreign ministers In Switzerland on Wednesday ahead of internationally brokered peace talks between Syria’s warring factions.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told reporters Sunday afternoon that Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has pledged that his country “would play a positive and constructive role” in the meeting to be held in the Swiss city of Montreux.

Ban says Iran is among 10 additional countries invited to attend the Montreux meeting that precedes the talks scheduled to begin Friday between Syrian President Bashar Assad’s delegation and Syrian opposition groups at the U.N. headquarters in Geneva. Thirty other countries had already accepted invitations.

Ban says Iran has agreed to endorse principles from a previous peace conference calling for a transitional government in Syria.

Indian minister’s wife’s death ‘unnatural and sudden’

Thanks;Nirmala Ganapathy
The Straits Times
Publication Date : 19-01-2014

Doctors said on Saturday that the death of an Indian junior minister’s wife at a luxury hotel was “unnatural and sudden”.

Sunanda Pushkar, 52, the third wife of high-profile politician Shashi Tharoor, died just two days after she took to Twitter to accuse him and a Pakistani journalist of having an affair.

The tragedy has gripped India, coming so soon after she went public saying she wanted to expose a “rip-roaring affair” between her husband, a former United Nations diplomat, and Lahore-based Mehr Tarar, 45.

“There were certain injury marks on the body of Sunanda Pushkar, but the nature of these cannot be revealed,” said Dr Sudhir Gupta, one of three doctors who carried out the post-mortem examination at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Saturday.

He did not say whether the injuries were linked to the death but said a final report would be out in two days.

An initial report showed no sign of poisoning, he added.

Tharoor, 57, who was earlier admitted to the hospital with chest pains, took his wife’s body away for cremation, surrounded by dozens of television cameras and photographers.

A doctor said the minister had been recently diagnosed with diabetes and high blood pressure. He was released after a team of cardiologists gave the all-clear.

Tharoor, India’s Minister of State for Human Resource Development, found his wife’s body in their suite at the five-star Leela Palace hotel on Friday evening when he returned from a Congress Party meeting in the Indian capital.

The couple were said to have moved into the luxury hotel last Wednesday as their official home was undergoing renovation.

The scandal erupted on Wednesday after Pushkar tweeted about troubles in their three-year marriage, accusing her husband of infidelity and Tarar of stalking him.

Tweets to Tarar were posted from Tharoor’s official account on Wednesday, declaring that he loved her and was waiting to be together with her.

“I love you… And I go while in love with you, irrevocably, irreversibly…” said one.

But Tharoor then claimed that his account had been hacked.

In a bizarre twist, his wife told Indian newspapers later that day that it was she who had actually sent the love tweets to Tarar, to expose the journalist.

“That woman pursued and pursued him. Men are stupid anyway. For all you know, she is a Pakistani agent,” she told The Indian Express newspaper, saying that she planned to divorce her husband.

Tharoor and Pushkar later released a joint statement saying they were “happily married” and blamed unauthorised tweets for creating a controversy.

But Pushkar continued to SMS and call several journalists, revealing that all was not well in their marriage. One of them, television anchor Sagarika Ghose, said Pushkar appeared depressed and was sobbing when she spoke to her earlier on Friday.

Local reports said she had been taking medication for tuberculosis and lupus, an autoimmune condition in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue.

In one of her last tweets, she said: “Who knows when I got 2 go with joy hastay huey jayengey (I will go laughing).”

Police were informed of the death by Tharoor’s aide Abhinav Kumar, who told reporters on Friday that Pushkar “seemed to be sleeping in a normal way” when she was found.

“There were no signs of any foul play or any struggle. She had no sign of poisoning or anything,” he told reporters.

The police have questioned staff at the luxury hotel who last saw Pushkar at 3:30pm on Friday when she ordered lunch.

Tarar, the woman who had angrily dismissed the accusations of having an affair with Tharoor, on Saturday tweeted her shock over the death.

“She had a Twitter fight with me, and then she died. I didn’t even get a chance to call her up, and clear the air,” she told CNN later. “She seemed larger than life, always smiling, and the manner in which she died would haunt me for a long, long time.”

Putrajaya, a capital belonging to the people

Thanks;June HL Wong, The Star/ANN, Wed, January 15 2014, 6:11

I have a question: Why do some people seem to think Putrajaya only belongs to them?

Silly me couldn’t help wondering due to the recent fuss over the mere suggestion of opening a Hard Rock Café there. And here I was thinking this was the capital of a modern, moderate, multiracial country.

But the way the objections were made and with an NGO going as far as to assume Putrajaya was modelled after Medina and therefore should not be sullied by anything that was remotely unIslamic, it seemed as if this carefully planned metropolis had to be religiously barbwired for its protection.

Well, thank goodness, Dr Mahathir Mohamad set the record straight and said Putrajaya was modelled after gay Paree.

The former prime minister, who was the prime mover behind its creation, wrote in his blog that he took design cues from the French capital’s Avenue des Champs-Elysees.

One can accept and indeed support that there should be Islamic influences in the look and feel of Putrajaya. There is undoubtedly much beauty in these design elements. The use of the dome in the architecture of important buildings like the Prime Minister’s Office and the Istana Kehakiman (Palace of Justice aka courthouse) bear majestic testament to that.

They are so impressive that foreign visitors sing praises about the “neo-Islamic” architecture. But what about buildings that give some hint of the multicultural complexity of Malaysia?

Mahathir also made it clear he did not envisage Putrajaya to be just “an administrative capital filled only with government offices.”

But the trouble with planned cities is, according to The Economist, that they only work on paper. All over the world, despite careful, meticulous planning, such capital cities are often flawed. Brasilia forgot to plan for the poor; Washington D.C. was plonked into a muggy, humid location and so on.

To me, Putrajaya’s flaw is that the planners forgot to celebrate the nation’s amazing ethnic, religious and cultural diversity. And that is so sad because Putrajaya, which was built on public funds coming from all of us taxpayers, was surely meant to represent the whole nation.

Understandably since “artificial capitals” are seats of administration, almost all the residents are civil servants as The Economist observed.

It’s the same for Putrajaya. Unfortunately, its demographics are “very heavily skewed to one race” as noted by Datuk Azlan Abdul Karim, Putrajaya Holdings Sdn Bhd CEO.

But just because of that, it doesn’t mean it’s an enclave for that race.

After all, almost all towns were once largely populated by one race, which was deemed to be bad for nation building and national unity. So the New Economic Policy was introduced to restructure society, and state and parliamentary constituencies were re-delineated to break the stranglehold of that race over the urban centres in the country.

So it is really odd that we spent billions of public funds to build a new administrative capital that is now “heavily skewed to one race”.

There is no question that Putrajaya is gorgeous with lots of grand-looking ministries, agencies, palaces, official residences, bridges and parks. But I would argue that it would greatly benefit from a more multiracial makeup in terms of its residents and looks. It is, after all, a showpiece to the world and visiting dignitaries. Not to mention it’s a hot favourite for wedding photographers.

For example, why not have a Chinese pavilion or garden? Sydney has its Chinese Garden of Friendship and it is an immensely popular tourist spot and for weddings too.

Compared to other famous planned capitals like Canberra, Brasilia and Washington D.C., Putrajaya is very young at just under 20 years old. So if Putrajaya is not so happening and has practically no nightlife yet, it is understandable.

After all, as Prof Ricky Burdett, head of the Cities Program at the London School of Economics, is quoted by principalvoices.com as saying: “I think cities which are totally planned, particularly cities which are totally planned to have one function, like a centre of government, can often be boring.”

“Boring” is a problem that can be fixed. As Mahathir suggested to the authorities: “Open up more sundry shops and restaurants as well as some entertainment hubs in order to maintain a high density of people around the area at all times.”

What does bother me is how some people think Putrajaya should be kept sacrosanct and not be defiled by others, which brings me back to my first question.

To say no to a Hard Rock Café simply on the grounds that the capital’s citizens must be protected from the sinful influences of alcohol and rock music continues to reinforce the belief that Putrajaya is only meant for one community.

Ironically, the owners of the Hard Rock Café franchise in this country are very respected, high-standing personalities. The outlets in Kuala Lumpur and George Town are hugely popular with tourists and give these cities a bit of international flavour.

I often wonder if some people, including leaders and civil servants, have become so insular because of the unintended effect of being cocooned in their own mono-ethnic world that they sometimes forget this is a multi-racial country.

Can we gently remind them that our new capital was named after Tunku Abdul Rahman Al-Putra, our first prime minister who helped found a nation he believed had space for different communities to live, love, work, play and pray in peace and harmony?