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Monday, November 18, 2013

Ever wondered if ‘Big Brother’ is spying on you too?

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 18 — Forget Edward Snowden’s revelations on the US spy scandal, Malaysians who have always feared being watched too closely by their government should know their insecurities are not unfounded, a local cybersecurity expert and lawyer have warned.
It is true that “Big Brother” is watching even in Malaysia, Akati Consulting founder and chief executive officer Krishna Rajagopal said, citing evidence he said clearly shows that the Malaysian government has been collecting and keeping the personal data of its citizens, or in other words, “spying”.
“We have intelligence reports of data collecting servers that were placed in Malaysia and are still active in Malaysia, spying servers, Big Brother servers.
“We don’t know who owns them but to put it in another way, this particular solution is what we call FinFisher and that particular product is only sold to governments so...,” he said, trailing of for a good measure of drama during a recent interview with The Malay Mail Online.
The software, also known as FinSpy, is a surveillance software marketed by Gamma International, a firm that promotes the spyware through law enforcement channels.
Krishna added that there are many other types of servers seen in Malaysia, called open source intelligence tools, which are usually used for national security purposes like tracking down terrorist activities.
“But what we have seen is when such a solution is placed, it gives a reason for abuse if there is no proper access control.
“For example, in Malaysia, all the municipalities became so gung ho and they started putting CCTVs all around, and they realised these officers in the municipalities started zooming those cameras into people’s houses, zooming and looking at women changing, that was what’s happening.
“So a knife can be used for cooking, it can also use for murder,” he said, suggesting the high risk of abuse should these surveillance tools be handled by the wrong persons.
The cybersecurity expert stressed that there must be a probable cause for inception activities to be considered lawful.
“That’s evidence gathering but if I just want to randomly collect data from a group of people, hoping to find something, that is not legal.
“We have also seen some open source intelligence being used, targeted at a specific group of people, which were not related to national security in Malaysia, these are intelligence information we got outside of Malaysia because we were dealing with Interpol”.
Krishna noted that Malaysia is not the only country, as Singapore, Australia, and the US are also similarly “spying” on their citizens.
“It all started off with a good purpose which was for national security, eventually it got abused and when they got busted, it became too big to control like this Edward Snowden thing.”
The US spy scandal caused major outrage in Malaysia late last month when top secret documents leaked by intelligence whistleblower Snowden revealed that the global superpower runs a monitoring station in its Kuala Lumpur embassy to tap telephones and monitor communications networks.
A map originally published by Germany magazine Der Spiegel and sighted by Australian dailiesSydney Morning Herald (SMH) and its Fairfax Media sister publication The Age, showed 90 electronic surveillance facilities worldwide, including in US embassies in Jakarta, Bangkok, Phnom Penh, and Yangon.
Dated August 13, 2010, the map however did not show any such facilities in Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Britain, and Japan, which are the US’ closest allies.
On the heels of the US espionage storm, the SMH later reported that Australia’s electronic intelligence agency was using its diplomatic missions to spy on its Asian neighbours.
According to the Australian newspaper, Fairfax Media was told that signals intelligence collection occurs at Australia’s High Commissions in Kuala Lumpur and Port Moresby, as well as at embassies in Jakarta, Bangkok, Hanoi, Beijing and Dili.
Citing new information disclosed by Snowden and a former Australian intelligence officer, the Australian newspaper also reported that clandestine surveillance facilities at embassies were carried out without the knowledge of most Australian diplomats.
Three days after news leaked that the US and Australia had purportedly used their diplomatic missions here to spy on Malaysia, Wisma Putra finally summoned the US ambassador and Australian High Commissioner yesterday to formally file a protest.
Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman said in a statement on November 2 that he had met with Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop in Perth yesterday and told his counterpart that spying against “close friends” is not done as it could “severely damage” relations.
“In response, Minister Bishop informed that it is not the policy of the Australian government to comment on intelligence matters,” said Anifah in a statement released by his office.
“However, the minister accepted the concerns raised by Malaysia on the matter and assured that the Australian government places high importance on the close bilateral relations with Malaysia,” he added.
New Sin Yew from Chan Weng Keng and Associates legal firm, said there needs to be a check and balance system in the process of intelligence gathering by the government.Selective Access
As nations across the globe continue to debate the legal extent of government spying and privacy issues, Krishna said it was important that only a limited, selected few individuals should have access to the throve of information collected.
The current system in Malaysia, however, is not ready yet although it is ready for lawful interception, he said, in reference to the government’s cability to trace for information only when the need arises. 
“That means when there is a probable cause for a case, the police can go in and tap the phones and e-mails, that’s fine but not on a blanket,” he said, adding that unlike most countries in the world, Singapore’s constitution allows the government to collect information on its citizen, making it legal to “spy” on its people.
'Scary' laws need to be amended
To protect an individual’s privacy, Krishna said two “scary” laws should be amended immediately. 
The amendment to the Criminal Procedure Code Act 2010, which has yet to be passed, and Section 114A of the Evidence Act, which was gazetted and enforced in July 2012, shifts the burden of proof to Internet users for presumed publication and ownership of offending items posted online, he noted.
“That goes against the age-old principle that you are innocent until proven guilty.
“Here you are guilty until proven innocent, so that part is very scary and that is a law that we cannot keep up with,” he said.
He explained that if if someone posts something offensive on the prime minister’s blog, it can be assumed that the police will not arrest him.
“What people are concerned is with these two laws and with the Big Brother, people are scared because it leads to a blanket because with these two laws and with the big brother kind of spy system being put in, it can go out of hand, it can turn into a tornado, out of control just like the CCTV story,” he said.
He also said that the two “scary” laws would lead to more abuse than anything else because both are too vague and are something that “we can’t even hold on to, we can’t even keep our word to it”.
“The law needs to be a little more clear.
“At the moment, that law is the most draconian cyber-security law in the world, Evidence Act 114a, put that together with the Multimedia Act, it is the most draconian cyber-security law in the world, we are at the top for that because it is something that the world is talking about it and we all know we can’t hold on to it. 
“So we have become a laughing stock because of that,” he lamented.
“Transparent” intelligence gathering
Krishna and New Sin Yew, a lawyer attached to Chan Weng Keng and Associates legal firm said the government should be more transparent with the process of gathering intelligence.
“The government has to come out clean… say you’re doing it and these are the people, so they have a specific unit in the country and a specific location in the country that has access to this and it will only be used for purpose A, B, C, D and what happens is there are ways to set it up using triggers, that system will only trigger when it matches a keyword,” he explained in a recent interview.
New told The Malay Mail Online that there must be a the check and balance and this should come from the role of the courts, and the public prosecutor to a certain extent.
“For them to start spying, they need a court order, you may not be there and it would only be just the police, and the public prosecutor and the judge.
He said, however, that the current system should be strengthened, and that Malaysia should emulate the UK, where in certain cases, there would be special advocates to argue for the general public in seeking justification on the need to spy, even though the judge makes the final decision.
“I don’t think that’s the only system but they should at the very least have a system of check and balance before they can say yes, go ahead and tap his phone.
“Here, they only need to go to the public prosecutor and the public prosecutor can just sign but here’s the problem, when they go to a public prosecutor, I feel that the public prosecutor’s role is then compromised because it’s the investigation stage and then you have the prosecution stage.
“There is always this saying, those who investigate don’t prosecute, those who prosecute don’t investigate because you can’t be objective,” he said.
New claimed that most of the time, investigators would say, “we actually have no evidence, so let’s wiretap to get some evidence”.
“I think they are already doing something illegal, if you read the federal constitution, Article 5, the right to life,” he said.
In June, it was reported that Communications and Multimedia Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek claimed that the government does not engages in any kind of hacking or ‘spy’ work on its people or on other countries.
“Yes we are not [spying]. I’m not saying Malaysian [citizens themselves are not doing it] but as far as the government is concerned, we are not condoning it, and we are not doing it,” he told Astro Awani.
Meanwhile, Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA) 2010 which took last week, with businesses given three months to comply, provides provisions to protect consumers’ personal data from being misused by other parties. 
The government however is exempted from the new law.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Iraq Dinar and Chapter 7 - A Change for the Iraqi Economy

Iraq Dinar and Chapter 7

A Change for the Iraqi Economy

By Joseph Cafariello
Wednesday, July 10th, 2013
A new chapter has begun for the once again completely sovereign nation of Iraq, as it was reclassified from Chapter 7 to Chapter 6 of the United Nation’s charter. In effect, it is like someone being released from prison. All of his confiscated possessions will be returned to him, and he will once again have full control of his finances.
july 2011 new iraqi dinarThis could deliver a huge boost to the value of Iraq’s currency, the dinar, with the return of billions of dollars worth of assets frozen shortly after its 1990 invasion of neighbour Kuwait.
But Iraq’s release from political prison also opens it up to suits and claims of reparation against it. Out from under Chapter 7 restrictions, how will Iraq manage its affairs now? And what will this mean for its dinar?
A New Chapter
While Chapter 7 authorizes the UN to impose sanctions or use military force against a country that steps out of line, Chapter 6 allows a nation to handle disputes with other countries on its own through peaceful negotiation.
“Iraq can now have normal relations and sign all sorts of treaties with other countries of the world,” Labeed Abbawy, Iraq’s former deputy foreign minister, expressed his relief to the Kurdistan paper Rudaw. “We were not getting invitations from the international conferences and some countries would even deny visas to our Iraqi diplomats.”
Only two issues still remain under Chapter 7: a ban on certain arms and the completion of reparation payments to Kuwait, with $11 billion outstanding of the original $52 billion owed.
All other sanctions and restrictions have been lifted. Iraq can rebuild its military. It can be party to political and trade treaties. It will control its oil revenues as its own government determines. It will even see the return of some $82 billion worth of frozen assets held in foreign banks since its invasion of Kuwait in 1990.
“The lifting of Chapter 7 against Iraq will enable it to regain independence in its oil policy, and Iraq again can become an important regional and international energy player,” Dr. Rebawar Khinsi boasted his optimism to Rudaw.
Good times are indeed in Iraq’s future, which should bode well for the dinar. But there are still a number of obstacles to clear out of the way.
Stability Issues
For the time being, the country is still being closely watched, like a released ex-convict under probation.
“Iraq will remain under observation and it has to respect the role of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI),” Dindar Zebari, special representative of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in the UN clarified to Rudaw. “Iraq is still not a stable country so the UN delegation will keep its presence there.”
Threatening Iraq’s stability are a number of unresolved issues from its past. Rudaw reports that “minorities have been especially concerned, apprehensive that the Iraqi government - without a leash - could turn into yet another threat.”
Haydar Mulla, an al-Iraqiya MP, although supportive of the chapter change, acknowledges “there are fears that lifting the restrictions will free the hands of the Iraqi government against the minorities.”
Besides continued tensions among Iraq’s disunited population, there are also a number of reparation claims to be settled after Saddam Hussein’s dictatorial rampage. As Amir Hassan Fayaz, head of the political science department at Nahrein College, expressed to Rudaw, “Iraq will become a normal country again and will be dealt with as a sovereign state. Now all the countries that Iraq is indebted to can ask for payment.”
The ex-convict is now going to be confronted by all the people he robbed and cheated, and there is no longer any Chapter 7 to protect him. The dinar can’t pull its flying carpet trick just yet.
Effect on the Dinar
What the changing of the chapters does for Iraq is lift a multitude of restrictions. But the nation still needs to grow into those expanded boundaries. Just because you move a plant from a small pot to a large pot does not mean it will grow instantly.
There are three main economic benefits delivered by Chapter 6: a) the return of frozen assets; b) debt forgiveness; and c) full control of revenues. While the first two will have an immediate affect on the nation’s financial circumstances, the third will take years to bear results.
  • First, there is the return of $82 billion in frozen assets. Indeed, this will have an immediate effect on Iraq’s balance sheet as soon as the funds are returned. Unfortunately, it will have a very small impact on the nation’s financial position or its currency’s value.
$82 billion is barely six months’ worth of Iraq’s annual GDP of $155 billion (CIA World Factbook). This is a “one-shot-deal”, not a recurring revenue. It should boost the value of the dinar to a certain extent. But once it is factored in, it will have no further boosting effect.
  • Next is the forgiveness of Iraq’s debt by as much as 80%. With most of that forgiveness already applied between 2004 and 2010, the current remaining debt, as reported by the CIA World Factbook, is $50 billion. Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari expects this to be completely paid off by 2015, making the nation debt free.
Though this is quite the achievement, it is another “one-shot-deal”, not a recurring revenue. Its value is only 4 months’ worth of GDP, spread out over the next 2 years, the effect of which should strengthen the IQD a little over time until 2015 and then stop.
  • Finally, as the greatest benefit of the UN’s decision, Iraq will be in full control of its oil revenues to spend as its elected governing bodies determine. Yet this does not result in an immediate increase in the nation’s wealth. Rather, the immediate effect of taking control of its finances will likely result in a worse balance sheet over the shorter term.
While under Chapter 7, Iraq could do just two things with its oil revenues: pay reparations to Kuwait and invest in its reconstruction fund, which included upgrading infrastructure and expanding its oil production.
Under Chapter 6, however, Iraq will have to manage additional expenses. It must rebuild its military, not an inexpensive task in these modern times. It also needs to start dealing with the multitude of claims against it by nations and groups not yet compensated for Saddam’s abuses against them.

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Slow Evolution
Iraq’s economy will grow. It will become wealthier, and the dinar will increase in value. But this will evolve slowly over time.
As Rudaw reports:
“According to Iraq’s energy plan, oil exports are expected to reach 6 million barrels per day by 2017, elevating the federal budget to $216 billion, [and] 9 million barrels per day by 2020, raising the budget to $324 billion. In 2025, the federal budget will reach $432 billion, if Iraq succeeds to export 12 million barrels of oil per day.”
Sounds like a great plan, and it will strengthen the IQD gradually over the next 12 years. But only when the Iraqi central bank finally decides to allow the currency to trade freely. As it is now, it just keeps returning to those same central bank-controlled rates.
The change from one UN chapter classification to another does only one thing: it puts sovereignty back into Iraq’s hands. But the journey to prosperity and ultimately a strong currency depends on what that nation’s government does with its new found freedom. Is it responsible enough? Is it capable enough? Is it united enough?
The future of the IQD depends on more than just a UN classification and the return of frozen assets. It depends on Iraq’s patching up differences with its neighbors and unifying its own citizens, on its continued reconstruction and investment in its oil industry, and on its willingness to open the cage confining its currency to let it fly and trade freely in an open market.
Until these three things happen – unity, reconstruction, and free exchange – the IQD will have a heck of a time gaining any strength at all.
In the meantime, other markets that are fully united, fully built, and fully free are ready and waiting for our investments. And they will likely give us a better return over a shorter period of time.
June 27’s news on the chapter change has had no impact on the IQD thus far, currently trading at 1162 per 1 USD, as it was then. (click chart to enlarge)
iraqi dinar 7-10-13 smallSource:
Joseph Cafariello

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