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Brother in law

Stuart White

The World in Black-N-White

Owing to the reality television shows that ran for over a decade, most people are familiar with the phrase ‘Big  Brother’ but I wonder how many know why the shows were as named?  If you are one of them, here is the answer. 

In 1948 British author George Orwell wrote a novel entitled ‘1984’ which depicted a future dystopian world where people’s every move and thought were controlled by an all-powerful body known by the deceptively familial term ‘Big Brother’.  Citizens were spied on by cameras and microphones at every turn and everywhere they turned they would see disturbing warning signs with the novel’s catchpharse, ‘Big Brother Is Watching You’. 

The novel was  Orwell’s very prescient vision of the frightening  Cold War   world just around the corner where Churchill’s iron Curtain was about to come down in Germany, splitting it into the free West and the communist-controlled East, along with the oppressive  regime of the communist Soviet Union.  

Easy, then, to see why part of the catchphrase was lifted for a programme featuring a house with cameras in every room to record the activities and conversations of its imprisoned inmates,  a fly-on-the-wall reality show to feed the voracious appetite for viewers of a voyeuristic nature but that was to trivialise Orwell’s insight and intent, much of which fiction became a reality as the 1950s unrolled.

This transition from private citizen to unwitting and unwilling participant in a daily reality show controlled by police and government has been hastened and facilitated by the warp speed leaps in technology over the last quarter of a century.  In Britain, for example, there is scarcely a city, town or village street today which is not covered by 24/7 CCTV coverage, capturing the movement of almost every citizen somewhere, sometime every single day. 

The government and police pro argument is that it keeps those citizens safer by deterring criminal activity and making it easier to capture evidence of wrongdoing whilst the personal privacy anti argument counters that it is an unwarranted intrusion into the lives of  the innocent majority and only a tissue paper’s width away from 1984’s Big Brother’s total control and oppression. The visible CCTV cameras are, however, only the visible tip of the intrusion iceberg.  All of us now have office and home PCs, laptops, tablets, cellphones and other connected devices, each and every one of which are vulnerable to spying and surveillance.

Such spyware is now readily available –  computer software programmes or hardware devices that enables unauthorised users  to secretly monitor and gather information about your computer use.  They can be installed on your computer without your knowledge, and the person installing them doesn’t even need to have physical access to your computer. It can keep track of every keystroke you type, every software application you use, every website you visit, every chat or instant message you send, every document you open, and everything you print.

Some spyware software gives the person monitoring the ability to freeze, shutdown or restart your compute and some versions even allow the abuser to remotely turn on your webcam or make your computer talk. Once it is installed, it can run in stealth mode and is difficult to detect or uninstall.   Without physical access to your computer, users can receive reports showing all of your computer activities, including copies of emails and instant messages sent, websites visited, etc., as well as screenshots of the computer screen every few seconds. This can all occur without the user knowing,, operating in stealth mode without notification or consent, and sending electronic reports to the perpetrator via the Internet

For instance one documentary make installed a ‘Find-my-phone’ app  on a cellphone,  then let someone steal it, after which  the original owner spied on every moment of the thief’s life through the phone’s camera and microphone.  The documentary tracks every move of this person, from brushing their teeth to going to work, to grabbing a bite to eat with their co-worker to intimate moments with a loved one. This is the power of apps that have access to your camera and microphone.

US government whistleblower, Edward Snowden revealed an NSA (National Security Agency) program called Optic Nerves. The operation was a bulk surveillance test programme under which they captured webcam images every five minutes from Yahoo users’ video chats and then stored them for future use.

Hackers can also gain access to your device with extraordinary ease via apps, PDF files, multimedia messages and even emojis.  An application called Metasploit on the ethical hacking platform Kali uses an Adobe Reader 9 (which over 60% of users still use) exploit to open a listener (rootkit) on the user’s computer.  The hacker alters the PDF with the programme, sends the user the malicious file, they open it, and hey presto – they then have total control over their device remotely.

Once a user opens this PDF file, the hacker can then:

Install whatever software/app they like on the user’s device.
Use a keylogger to grab all of their passwords.
Steal all documents from the device.
Take pictures and stream videos from their camera.
Capture past or live audio from the microphone.
Upload incriminating images/documents to their PC, and notify the police.

This background might bring into context the current controversy surrounding the Chinese telecoms giant, Huawei.  The White House today issued an executive order banning  US firms from using telecom equipment from sources the administration deems national security threats.  Though not specifically named, the order is deemed to refer particularly to Huawei,  because of its close links to the Chinese government. 

Cynics might say that’s the US government in effect saying don’t do as we do just do as we say and that may be so but given all the sypware devices available, consider this simple analogy.  If someone were standing outside your bedroom window, staring in through the curtains you would call the police.   Why then when you may be being monitored via your connected devices do you pretend it’s not really happening or it doesn’t matter??

There are some simple precautions you can take.  Firstly, before you download a new app, study what permissions it asks for. Does LinkedIn really require camera access? Does Twitter really require microphone access?   Also always make sure to cover your webcam with tape, and plug out your microphones when you’re not using them.   After all, you never know who’s listening, monitoring and watching –  it may be ‘Big Brother’. 

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Is COVID-19 Flogging an Already Dead Economic Horse?

9th September 2020

The Central Bank has by way of its Monetary Policy Statement informed us that the Botswana economy is likely to contract by 8.9 percent over the course of the year 2020.

The IMF paints an even gloomier picture – a shrinkage of the order of 9.6 percent.  That translates to just under $2 billion hived off from the overall economic yield given our average GDP of roughly $18 billion a year. In Pula terms, this is about P23 billion less goods and services produced in the country and you and I have a good guess as to what such a sum can do in terms of job creation and sustainability, boosting tax revenue, succouring both recurrent and development expenditure, and on the whole keeping our teeny-weeny economy in relatively good nick.

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Union of Blue Bloods

9th September 2020

Joseph’s and Judah’s family lines conjoin to produce lineal seed

Just to recap, General Atiku, the Israelites were not headed for uncharted territory. The Promised Land teemed with Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. These nations were not simply going to cut and run when they saw columns of battle-ready Israelites approach: they were going to fight to the death.

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Security Sector Private Bills: What are they about?

9th September 2020

Parliament has begun debates on three related Private Members Bills on the conditions of service of members of the Security Sector.

The Bills are Prisons (Amendment) Bill, 2019, Police (Amendment) Bill, 2019 and Botswana Defence Force (Amendment) Bill, 2019. The Bills seek to amend the three statutes so that officers are placed on full salaries when on interdictions or suspensions whilst facing disciplinary boards or courts of law.

In terms of the Public Service Act, 2008 which took effect in 2010, civil servants who are indicted are paid full salary and not a portion of their emolument. Section 35(3) of the Act specifically provides that “An employee’s salary shall not be withheld during the period of his or her suspension”.

However, when parliament reformed the public service law to allow civil servants to unionize, among other things, and extended the said protection of their salaries, the process was not completed. When the House conferred the benefit on civil servants, members of the disciplined forces were left out by not accordingly amending the laws regulating their employment.

The Bills stated above seeks to ask Parliament to also include members of the forces on the said benefit. It is unfair not to include soldiers or military officers, police officers and prison waders in the benefit. Paying an officer who is facing either external or internal charges full pay is in line with the notion of ei incumbit probation qui dicit, non qui negat or the presumption of innocence; that the burden of proof is on the one who declares, not on one who denies.

The officers facing charges, either internal disciplinary or criminal charges before the courts, must be presumed innocent until proven otherwise. Paying them a portion of their salary is penalty and therefore arbitrary. Punishment by way of loss of income or anything should come as a result of a finding on the guilt by a competent court of law, tribunal or disciplinary board.

What was the rationale behind this reform in 2008 when the Public Service Act was adopted? First it was the presumption of innocence until proven otherwise.

The presumption of innocence is the legal principle that one is considered “innocent until proven guilty”. In terms of the constitution and other laws of Botswana, the presumption of innocence is a legal right of the accused in a criminal trial, and it is an international human right under the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 11.

Withholding a civil servant’s salary because they are accused of an internal disciplinary offense or a criminal offense in the courts of law, was seen as punishment before a decision by a tribunal, disciplinary board or a court of law actually finds someone culpable. Parliament in its wisdom decided that no one deserves this premature punishment.

Secondly, it was considered that people’s lives got destroyed by withholding of financial benefits during internal or judicial trials. Protection of wages is very important for any worker. Workers commit their salaries, they pay mortgages, car loans, insurances, schools fees for children and other things. When public servants were experiencing salary cuts because of interdictions, they lost their homes, cars and their children’s future.

They plummeted into instant destitution. People lost their livelihoods. Families crumbled. What was disheartening was that in many cases, these workers are ultimately exonerated by the courts or disciplinary tribunals. When they are cleared, the harm suffered is usually irreparable. Even if one is reimbursed all their dues, it is difficult to almost impossible to get one’s life back to normal.

There is a reasoning that members of the security sector should be held to very high standards of discipline and moral compass. This is true. However, other more senior public servants such as judges, permanent secretary to the President and ministers have faced suspensions, interdictions and or criminal charges in the courts but were placed on full salaries.

The yardstick against which security sector officers are held cannot be higher than the aforementioned public officials. It just wouldn’t make sense. They are in charge of the security and operate in a very sensitive area, but cannot in anyway be held to higher standards that prosecutors, magistrates, judges, ministers and even senior officials such as permanent secretaries.

Moreover, jail guards, police officers and soldiers, have unique harsh punishments which deter many of them from committing misdemeanors and serious crimes. So, the argument that if the suspension or interdiction with full pay is introduced it would open floodgates of lawlessness is illogical.

Security Sector members work in very difficult conditions. Sometimes this drives them into depression and other emotional conditions. The truth is that many seldom receive proper and adequate counseling or such related therapies. They see horrifying scenes whilst on duty. Jail guards double as hangmen/women.

Detectives attend to autopsies on cases they are dealing with. Traffic police officers are usually the first at accident scenes. Soldiers fight and kill poachers. In all these cases, their minds are troubled. They are human. These conditions also play a part in their behaviors. They are actually more deserving to be paid full salaries when they’re facing allegations of misconduct.

To withhold up to 50 percent of the police, prison workers and the military officers’ salaries during their interdiction or suspensions from work is punitive, insensitive and prejudicial as we do not do the same for other employees employed by the government.

The rest enjoy their full salaries when they are at home and it is for a good reason as no one should be made to suffer before being found blameworthy. The ruling party seems to have taken a position to negate the Bills and the collective opposition argue in the affirmative. The debate have just began and will continue next week Thursday, a day designated for Private Bills.

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