India shuts down Internet in hotspot after deadly protests

The Citizenship Amendment Bill allows for the fast-tracking of applications from religious minorities from three neighboring countries. (File/AFP)
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Updated 13 December 2019

India shuts down Internet in hotspot after deadly protests

  • Protests erupted this week after the government introduced new legislation that many in the far-flung northeast believe will give citizenship to immigrants
  • On Friday morning thousands gathered in central Guwahati as riot police looked on

GUWAHATI: Internet access was cut in India’s northeastern city of Guwahati on Friday as thousands gathered for fresh protests against a new citizenship law, a day after police shot dead two demonstrators.
Protests erupted this week after the government introduced new legislation that many in the far-flung northeast believe will give citizenship to immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh, and which other critics say is anti-Muslim.
On Friday morning thousands gathered in central Guwahati as riot police looked on, with residents hurrying out to buy essentials.
No fresh violence was reported but Guwahati and other areas remained littered from the detritus of recent days, with some roads blocked by fallen trees, concrete poles, stones and iron railings. Many cash machines have run out of cash and most petrol stations were also shut.
A local government official said that Internet access in the Guwahati, the main city of Assam state, had been cut and an AFP reporter confirmed that connections appeared to have been suspended.
The Meghalaya state government has also cut off mobile Internet, with parts of the capital Shillong brought under curfew since Thursday evening.
Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was planning to scrap a visit to the city due to begin on Sunday as the security situation deteriorated, media reported Friday. The Japanese leader had been slated to hold talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
On Thursday, police had fired live and blank rounds as thousands of demonstrators in Guwahati and elsewhere took to the streets, some vandalising property and torching vehicles.
The two demonstrators killed in the city were among around 20 people being treated in hospital, “a few” of whom had gunshot wounds, said Ramen Talukdar, a doctor at a Guwahati hospital.
Hundreds of passengers stuck at Guwahati airport were brought to the city on government buses with police escort in the early hours of Friday morning.
Several thousand troops have been drafted in to help police, who fired tear gas and charged demonstrators with batons, in recent days.
Security was increased at the Bangladeshi consulate in Guwahati after a vehicle in the consul’s convoy was attacked Wednesday by mobs, the foreign ministry in Dhaka said.
“They cant settle anyone in our motherland. This is unacceptable. We will die but not allow outsiders to settle here,” Manav Das, a protester told AFP on Friday.
“We will defeat the government with the force of the people and the government will be forced to revoke the law,” said local activist Samujal Battacharya.
The Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB), signed into law by the Indian president late Thursday, allows for the fast-tracking of applications from religious minorities from three neighboring countries, but not Muslims.
For Islamic groups, the opposition and rights groups, it is part of Modi’s Hindu nationalist agenda to marginalize India’s 200 million Muslims. He denies this.
The US State Department on Thursday urged India to “protect the rights of its religious minorities,” according to Bloomberg.
But many in India’s northeast object for different reasons, fearing that immigrants from Bangladesh — many of them Hindus — will become citizens, taking jobs and weakening the local culture.
The chief ministers of the states of Punjab in the north and Kerala in the south also said that they would not implement the law, the Hindu daily reported.
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Google CEO calls for regulation of artificial intelligence

Updated 20 January 2020

Google CEO calls for regulation of artificial intelligence

  • Sundar Pichai’s comments come as lawmakers and governments seriously consider putting limits on how artificial intelligence is used
  • Pichai’s comments suggest the company may be hoping to head off a broad-based crackdown by the EU on the technology

LONDON: Google’s chief executive called Monday for a balanced approach to regulating artificial intelligence, telling a European audience that the technology brings benefits but also “negative consequences.”

Sundar Pichai’s comments come as lawmakers and governments seriously consider putting limits on how artificial intelligence is used.

“There is no question in my mind that artificial intelligence needs to be regulated. The question is how best to approach this,” Pichai said, according to a transcript of his speech at a Brussel-based think tank.

He noted that there’s an important role for governments to play and that as the European Union and the US start drawing up their own approaches to regulation, “international alignment” of any eventual rules will be critical. He did not provide specific proposals.

Pichai spoke on the same day he was scheduled to meet the EU’s powerful competition regulator, Margrethe Vestager.

Vestager has in previous years hit the Silicon Valley giant with multibillion-dollar fines for allegedly abusing its market dominance to choke off competition. After being reappointed for a second term last autumn with expanded powers over digital technology policies, Vestager has now set her sights on artificial intelligence, and is drawing up rules on its ethical use.

Pichai’s comments suggest the company may be hoping to head off a broad-based crackdown by the EU on the technology. Vestager and the EU have been the among the more aggressive regulators of big tech firms, an approach US authorities have picked up with investigations into the dominance of companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon.

“Sensible regulation must also take a proportionate approach, balancing potential harms with social opportunities,” he said, adding that it could incorporate existing standards like Europe’s tough General Data Protection Regulation rather than starting from scratch.

While it promises big benefits, he raised concerns about potential downsides of artificial intelligence, citing as one example its role in facial recognition technology, which can be used to find missing people but also for “nefarious reasons” which he didn’t specify.

In 2018, Google pledged not to use AI in applications related to weapons, surveillance that violates international norms, or that works in ways that go against human rights.