It’s austerity or catastrophe, Saad Hariri tells Lebanon

Prime Minister Saad Hariri promised “the most austere budget in the history of Lebanon.” ()
Updated 18 April 2019
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It’s austerity or catastrophe, Saad Hariri tells Lebanon

  • The 2019 draft budget includes “wide reductions” in spending

BEIRUT: Lebanese public sector workers took to the streets of Beirut in protest on Wednesday ahead of a budget expected to impose painful austerity measures.

The 2019 draft budget includes “wide reductions” in spending based on the need for “exceptional austerity measures,” Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil said. 

Prime Minister Saad Hariri promised “the most austere budget in the history of Lebanon.” 

He said: “It’s my duty to be honest with people. We stand with limited-income people and the retired, but we want to maintain the lira peg and the salary scale for general services and national officers. To do so, tough austerity measures will be needed to the detriment of public expenditure.”

The budget is seen as a critical test of the government’s will to enact reforms that economists say are more pressing than ever for an economy that has suffered years of low growth. State finances are strained by a bloated public sector, high debt servicing costs and hefty subsidies spent on the power sector.

Hariri said: “If we continue like this we will reach a catastrophe.” Unlike other states that had suffered financial crises such as Greece, Lebanon would have no one to save it, he said.

Labor union chief Bechara Al-Asmar, who took part in a protest sit-in in Beirut on Wednesday, told Arab News: “We raise our voice because the government finds that the easiest things to do is to jeopardize the public sector.

“But there are many measures that can be adopted before cutting wages, including a correctional basket that does not affect Lebanese people. The government always prevails over the weak, but the public servants will no more be the weak link.”

Public sector union member Dib Hashem said: “We will not wait for them to cut our wages. We have waited 20 years for our salaries to improve and increase, we will not allow them to cut them again.”


Israel spyware firm can mine data from social media: FT

Updated 19 July 2019
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Israel spyware firm can mine data from social media: FT

  • An Israeli cybersecurity company has developed spyware that can scrape data from the servers of Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft products
  • Pegasus harvests not only data stored on a device, but also any information stored in the cloud, including a user’s location data, archived messages and photos

JERUSALEM: An Israeli spyware firm thought to have hacked WhatsApp in the past has told clients it can scoop user data from the world’s top social media, the Financial Times reported Friday.
The London paper wrote that NSO group had “told buyers its technology can surreptitiously scrape all of an individual’s data from the servers of Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft, according to people familiar with its sales pitch.”
An NSO spokesperson, responding in a written statement to AFP’s request for comment, denied the allegation.
“There is a fundamental misunderstanding of NSO, its services and technology,” it said.
“NSO’s products do not provide the type of collection capabilities and access to cloud applications, services, or infrastructure as listed and suggested in today’s FT article.”
In May, Facebook-owned WhatsApp said it had released an update to plug a security hole in its messaging app that allowed insertion of sophisticated spyware that could be used to spy on journalists, activists and others.
It said the attack bore “all the hallmarks of a private company that works with a number of governments around the world.”
It did not name a suspect but Washington-based analyst Joseph Hall, chief technologist at the Center for Democracy and Technology, said at the time that the hack appeared related to the NSO’s Pegasus software.
It is normally sold to law enforcement and intelligence services.
Friday’s FT report, citing documents it had viewed and descriptions of a product demonstration, said the program had “evolved to capture the much greater trove of information stored beyond the phone in the cloud, such as a full history of a target’s location data, archived messages or photos.”
NSO says it does not operate the Pegasus system, only licensing it to closely vetted government users “for the sole purpose of preventing or investigating serious crime including terrorism.”
The group came under the spotlight in 2016 when researchers accused it of helping spy on an activist in the United Arab Emirates.
NSO is based in the Israeli seaside hi-tech hub of Herzliya, near Tel Aviv. It says it employs 600 people in Israel and around the world.
Pegasus is a highly invasive tool that can reportedly switch on a target’s cell phone camera and microphone, and access data on it, effectively turning the phone into a pocket spy.
“Increasingly sophisticated terrorists and criminals are taking advantage of encrypted technologies to plan and conceal their crimes, leaving intelligence and law enforcement agencies in the dark and putting public safety and national security at risk,” the company statement said.
“NSO’s lawful interception products are designed to confront this challenge.”