Journalists will not be seen as spies: UK government defends Official Secrets Act reform

The Home Office stressed that work on the legislation is still “ongoing and has not reached a conclusion.” (Reuters/File Photo)
The Home Office stressed that work on the legislation is still “ongoing and has not reached a conclusion.” (Reuters/File Photo)
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Updated 25 July 2021

Journalists will not be seen as spies: UK government defends Official Secrets Act reform

The Home Office stressed that work on the legislation is still “ongoing and has not reached a conclusion.” (Reuters/File Photo)
  • Some media outlets claimed that the legislation, if passed, will effectively treat journalists like spies
  • UK government claimed that freedom of the press is an integral part of the country’s democratic processes

LONDON: The UK government on Friday defended its stance regarding its proposed overhaul of the Official Secrets Act and claimed that freedom of the press is an integral part of the UK’s democratic processes.

“It is wrong to claim the proposals will put journalists at risk of being treated like spies and they will, rightly, remain free to hold the government to account,” a Home Office spokesperson told Arab News. 

“We will introduce new legislation so security services and law enforcement agencies can tackle evolving state threats and protect sensitive data,” the spokesperson added. “However, this will be balanced to protect press freedom and the ability for whistleblowers to hold organizations to account when there are serious allegations of wrongdoing.”

In early July, the UK government proposed new legislation to counter state threats which included an overhaul of the Official Secrets Act, legislation that essentially guarantees the protection of state secrets and official information.

According to the government, the proposed legislation is largely intended to modernize existing counter-espionage laws and improve the government’s ability to protect official data. 

The proposed reforms target the Official Secrets Acts of 1911, 1920 and 1939, which outline the main espionage offences, as well as the Official Secrets Act 1989, which governs the law around the “unauthorized disclosure of official material and its onward disclosure.”

The move has caused a major stir in the British media, where it is being widely interpreted as having serious consequences for journalists and their ability to hold governments to account. 

Some media outlets claimed that the legislation, if passed, will effectively treat journalists like spies and mean that the government can treat cases of unauthorized disclosure and acts of espionage in essentially the same way. 

While the UK government does equate acts of espionage to cases of unauthorized disclosure in terms of severity, it nevertheless highlighted in the new legislation document that “there are differences in the mechanics of, and motivations behind, espionage and unauthorized disclosure offences.”

The announcement came shortly after the homes of two people were raided in England last week by police officers and officials from the Information Commissioner’s Office in connection to the leak of compromising security-camera footage of former health minister Matt Hancock and his aide Gina Coladangelo in his ministerial office. 

If passed, the new legislation would mean such leaks would be classed as dangerous and criminal.

In the past, the Official Secrets Act was used to prosecute individuals responsible for revealing sensitive information — about the activities of security services, for instance — to newspapers. 

The Home Office stressed that work on the legislation is still “ongoing and has not reached a conclusion.”


Apple removes popular Quran app for users in China

Apple removes popular Quran app for users in China
Updated 16 October 2021

Apple removes popular Quran app for users in China

Apple removes popular Quran app for users in China

DUBAI: Apple has removed a popular Quran app from its app store in China on the request of Chinese officials. 

“Quran Majeed,” a reading-friendly application used by millions of Muslim users around the world, has been deleted on the Chinese app store for “hosting illegal religious texts,” the BBC reported. 

“According to Apple, our app Quran Majeed has been removed from the China App store because it includes content that requires additional documentation from Chinese authorities,” the report cited the app makers as saying. 

“We are trying to get in touch with the Cyberspace Administration of China and relevant Chinese authorities to get this issue resolved.” 

It is reported that the app has more than one million users in China.

The BBC report said it contacted the Chinese government for a comment, but had not received a response. 

The Chinese Communist Party officially recognizes Islam as a religion in the country. 
But China has been constantly accused of committing human rights violations, that amount to genocide, against the millions of Uyghurs, who are mostly Muslim, living in Xinjiang.


Google cyber-threat arm exposes Tehran’s online espionage

Google cyber-threat arm exposes Tehran’s online espionage
Updated 16 October 2021

Google cyber-threat arm exposes Tehran’s online espionage

Google cyber-threat arm exposes Tehran’s online espionage
  • An Iranian-government aligned group has tried to steal personal information and passwords of notable individuals across Europe and the US through 2021
  • Iran set to continue on the same cyber-espionage path despite the exposure of their tactics, expert tells Arab News

Tech giant Google has exposed how Iranian-backed groups attempt to use its platforms to carry out espionage on behalf of the government in Tehran.

In a blog post released on Thursday, Google’s Threat Analysis Group exposed the work of APT35, a shady hacking group that Google said is linked to the Iranian government.

Ajax Bash, of TAG, said: “This is the one of the groups we disrupted during the 2020 US election cycle for its targeting of campaign staffers. For years, this group has hijacked accounts, deployed malware, and used novel techniques to conduct espionage aligned with the interests of the Iranian government.”

APT35 “regularly conducts phishing campaigns targeting high risk users,” Bash said.

In one instance, he said, Iranian hackers targeted lecturers from a British university — the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London — and impersonated them in an attempt to trick others in the academic community into divulging their personal information and passwords. This form of cyber espionage is called credential phishing.

“APT35 has relied on this technique since 2017 — targeting high-value accounts in government, academia, journalism, NGOs, foreign policy, and national security,” said Bash.

“Credential phishing through a compromised website demonstrates these attackers will go to great lengths to appear legitimate — as they know it’s difficult for users to detect this kind of attack.

“One of the most notable characteristics of APT35 is their impersonation of conference officials to conduct phishing attacks,” said Bash. He explained that Iranian-backed operatives impersonated officials from the Munich Security Conference and an Italian think-tank to steal passwords and information.

Amin Sabeti, the founder of Digital Impact Lab and an Iran-focused cyber security professional, told Arab News that Google’s blog exposes how Iran continues to build on its national cyber security strategy.

“This report shows again that Iranian state-backed hackers are very good in social engineering and they have improved their technique,” he said.

“For example, using a legitimate website to convince the target to enter the credential details of their online account is something new that we didn’t see a few years ago.”

Sabeti also said that, despite Google unmasking Iran’s cyber-espionage activity, it is unlikely that they will change their strategy entirely.

“I think we will see the same techniques but with new ideas.”

Google’s Bash said: “We warn users when we suspect a government-backed threat like APT35 is targeting them. Thousands of these warnings are sent every month, even in cases where the corresponding attack is blocked.  

“Threat Analysis Group will continue to identify bad actors and share relevant information with others in the industry, with the goal of bringing awareness to these issues, protecting you and fighting bad actors to prevent future attacks.”

Decoder

Credential phishing

It is a form of cyber attack in which hackers impersonate a reputable entity or person to steal user ID or email addresses and password combinations, then use the victim's credentials to carry out attacks on other targets.


Goal of new UAE-based creative agency to prove role, value of empathy to balance humanism with capitalism: Mimi Nicklin

The goal of FREEDM is to prove the role and value of empathy to balance humanism with capitalism, says Mimi Nicklin. (Supplied)
The goal of FREEDM is to prove the role and value of empathy to balance humanism with capitalism, says Mimi Nicklin. (Supplied)
Updated 15 October 2021

Goal of new UAE-based creative agency to prove role, value of empathy to balance humanism with capitalism: Mimi Nicklin

The goal of FREEDM is to prove the role and value of empathy to balance humanism with capitalism, says Mimi Nicklin. (Supplied)
  • Virtual, hybrid agency FREEDM aims to bring togetherness to advertising world

DUBAI: FREEDM is a new UAE-based creative agency that was launched last month. Headquartered in Dubai, the majority of its team is spread throughout the world in countries including the US, Singapore, India, South Africa, and Sri Lanka.

Backed by investors Sean McCauley and Richard Aybar of The Devmark Group, who are founding board members, FREEDM is led by Mimi Nicklin, who has worked in the advertising industry for 15 years and is the author of “Softening the Edge,” which explains why empathy is critical to turning around businesses.

Nicklin told Arab News: “When I arrived in the Middle East three-and-a-half years ago, I took over a business that needed a substantial amount of turnaround and I decided to do that with empathy at the core.

“It worked against all sorts of criticism, and we turned around to be a phenomenal small business — with empathy at the heart.”

She pointed out that empathy levels had been declining for three decades, a situation that has had far-reaching consequences, such as mental health issues.

“We have over 300 million people with depression, which is one of the heaviest costs on our healthcare services worldwide today; and anxiety issues are almost out of control — even the World Health Organization has recognized burnout as an official workplace-related illness,” she said.

The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has made many mental health issues worse inspiring Nicklin to combine the learnings of the global health crisis, her past work experiences, and research on empathy, to create a new kind of agency.

“If we don’t take the learnings of the trauma that hit our world, then we’re just going backward and I don’t understand why the business world seems to want to revert to 2019 with such ease,” she added.

On how to translate empathy to the workplace in the fast-paced agency world, she said: “It translates to elevating our people in order to balance people and profit rather than sacrificing our people in order to drive profit.”

Nicklin noted that advertising agencies have been under increasing pressure in the last two decades as client demands have increased and team sizes shrunk.

“We are an industry that doesn’t sell product, we sell creativity. And creative people need space and time that procurement can’t put a price on. As creative talent is being deprioritized, creative effectiveness is suffering.”

Today, creative businesses contribute to 3 percent of the world’s gross domestic product, employ 30 million people globally, and are the biggest job providers for workers aged 18 to 25, according to the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization.

“That basically makes us the industry of tomorrow, and my belief is that the industry of tomorrow cannot function as it did yesterday,” said Nicklin.

FREEDM’s vision is to create an environment free of biases and restrictions that allows creativity to flourish. That includes recruiting talent from all walks of life regardless of age, gender, or economic background.

“We are not a particularly strong industry when it comes to diversity and inclusion. And this business is set to change that by being founded in a very different way,” she added.

For clients, it does not only mean access to exceptional work that addresses their marketing goals, but also being able to fulfill social and personal goals by “directly impacting human beings by creating freedom for them,” she said.

“I believe that we are all people before we are employees, leaders, or executives. And I think the last two years, particularly, have created a shift in society where we are all more aware of our collective role in improving and sustaining the world around us.”

The results speak for themselves with the agency receiving a phenomenal response within one month of its launch and winning new clients every day for at least an entire week. As of September, the agency already had nine clients with more in the pipeline.

From the outset, FREEDM has aligned its business with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and UNESCO’s International Year of Creative Economy for Sustainable Development.

UNESCO believes that the creative economy needs to accommodate creators, through careers in the creative industry that are “viable, and characterized by dignified working conditions, decent pay, and growth opportunities.” In order to fulfill this goal, it has called on policymakers and global leaders to conduct an exhaustive policy review that includes employment, intellectual property, and education.

“That means we have to reformat our entire business and our industry. So, it’s an incredibly big challenge, but at the same time, I believe you can’t create change without discomfort,” Nicklin added.


Rights watchdog presses Houthis to release abducted journalist

Rights watchdog presses Houthis to release abducted journalist
Updated 15 October 2021

Rights watchdog presses Houthis to release abducted journalist

Rights watchdog presses Houthis to release abducted journalist
  • Youness Abdelsalam suffers from health issues, says CPJ

LONDON: The Committee to Protect Journalists has urged the Houthis to free a journalist they abducted in August and to end their “campaign against journalists.”

Youness Abdelsalam was seized in Sanaa and the CPJ said it feared he could be executed for his reporting.

His family said he had not been formally charged with a crime.

Abdelsalam, who worked for local papers, criticized the Houthis and also the Yemeni government.

“The Houthis must release Youness Abdelsalam immediately and stop abducting journalists,” said the CPJ’s senior Middle East and North Africa researcher Justin Shilad. “The Houthis’ campaign against journalists knows no bounds, and now more than ever the international community needs to take action.”

The CPJ said Abdelsalam suffered from health issues and that his family had only been able to visit him once since his arrest.

He is being held with at least four other journalists, all of whom face the death sentence, the CPJ said, adding that the Iran-backed militia had “assaulted, imprisoned, and forced out journalists from areas under the group’s control over the last several years.”

Imprisoned journalists experienced torture, isolation, and the deprivation of critical healthcare services while in detention, their familes warned.

They said the brother of Abdulkader Al-Murtada, who is the head of the Houthi prisoner affairs committee, tortured the journalists himself or incited other captors to mistreat them. They also said they had been forced to bribe Houthis to deliver life-saving injections to one diabetic journalist.

“We bribe the Houthis to allow us to send him an injection every 20 days. We do not know if he received them or not,” a family member said.

The Houthis have committed human rights and other abuses since they took power from the internationally recognized Yemeni government in 2014. 

Since then, and with the assistance of Iranian weapons and training, they have executed a bloody campaign in order to control the whole country. 


Disgraced BBC religion editor asked Pakistani PM if he was ‘ashamed’ to be Muslim after 9/11

Disgraced BBC religion editor asked Pakistani PM if he was ‘ashamed’ to be Muslim after 9/11
Updated 15 October 2021

Disgraced BBC religion editor asked Pakistani PM if he was ‘ashamed’ to be Muslim after 9/11

Disgraced BBC religion editor asked Pakistani PM if he was ‘ashamed’ to be Muslim after 9/11
  • Journalist criticized for “deceitful” treatment of Diana, Princess of Wales
  • Politician said question was part of West's “rising Islamophobia”

LONDON: The BBC’s former religion editor Martin Bashir asked Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan if he was “ashamed of being a Muslim” after the 9/11 terror attacks.

Khan revealed in his autobiography that he was “shocked” by Bashir’s line of questioning when he was contacted after the tragedy.

“After 9/11, I will never forget he (Bashir) rang me up and he said: ‘Aren’t you ashamed of being a Muslim,’” said Khan, who was interviewed by the journalist in Pakistan.

“‘As a Muslim, aren’t you embarrassed by the attacks?’ was his immediate question. I was shocked,” Khan wrote.

“Implying all the world’s 1.3 billion Muslims should feel responsible for an act of a handful of criminals is like asking a Christian to feel responsible for Hitler or Stalin’s atrocities, or asking a Catholic if they support the IRA blowing up children at Omagh. I expected a backlash after 9/11, but had not anticipated its ferocity,” he added.

It was part of the “rising Islamophobia” in the West that falsely portrayed all Muslims as “baddies,” said Khan, who was elected as Pakistan’s leader in 2018.

He said the phone call with Bashir, who then worked for ITN, was an example of how some in the West used the Sep. 11 attacks to put “all Muslims on trial” and merely “alienated many normal Muslims.”

Bashir, Khan concluded, was “not the best of journalists.”

The journalist, who retired from the profession in May this year citing health reasons, has also been the subject of significant scrutiny for his reporting methods in other cases, most prominently with his treatment of the late Diana, Princess of Wales.

The UK’s Daily Mail newspaper revealed last year that Bashir had used forgery and deception to trick her into giving him an interview in 1995 that some blamed on her eventual split from Prince Charles. She died in 1997 in a car crash.

Following an inquiry, the BBC found that Bashir had used “deceitful” methods to secure an interview with her and that a “woefully ineffective” internal investigation had covered his tracks.

Khan and Diana were friends and she visited Pakistan numerous times. He attended her funeral alongside Hasnat Khan, her former boyfriend and a distant relative of the cricket star.