At a glance.
- Moscow assigns state system status to national biometric database.
- Israel suspends exports of offensive cyber tools.
- Controversy over Indian government use of spyware.
- FCC counts rip-and-replace costs (they're high).
Russian government seizes control of national biometric database.
In late December, the Kremlin assigned “state system” status to the country’s uniform biometric database (UBS), which collects residents’ face images and voice samples in order to confirm identity in online banking. While the move could be considered just a logistical formality, CEPA asserts that Russian authorities are on a quest to obtain more control over citizens’ biometric data at the expense of human rights. Despite the concerns of privacy advocates, control over the UBS will give Russian authorities a much broader database of biometric info that will allow for more sweeping surveillance. Created in 2018, the UBS is operated by Rostelecom, Russia’s leading (and state-owned) digital services provider, under the supervision of the Digital Development Ministry and the Central Bank. In an effort to gather more data, the government has expanded the services offered to clients who submit their biometrics, including notary and insurance services and even remote university exams. Authorities are also planning to integrate the UBS with gosuslugi.ru, an online portal used by 90 million Russians for remote access to government services like scheduling medical appointments at state hospitals. In November, President Vladimir Putin stated that only the state should have full “responsibility for biometric data collection” and regulate access to the data by third parties in order to guarantee the security of the system.
Israel suspends export licenses for spyware.
While investigations into the abuse of Israeli software company NSO Group’s controversial Pegasus spyware continue, Israel’s Defense Ministry has frozen export licenses for surveillance software, the Times of Israel reports. The government has also stated it will not renew such licenses for several Gulf states that use the software. The freeze will remain until the government can complete an in-depth analysis of Pegasus’s use. The announcement comes on the heels of allegations that Israeli police used the spyware to track Israeli civilians unconnected with criminal activity.
Indian lawmakers allege government lied about spyware use.
The impact of the Pegasus scandal is also being felt in India, where several opposition parties have filed privilege motions alleging the government misled them about its use of the surveillance software, RFI reports. Following the recent publication of a New York Times investigation claiming the Indian government purchased Pegasus as part of a $2 billion weapons package, leader of the Congress party Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury wrote to the Lower House speaker, “In light of the latest revelations by The New York Times, it appears that the Modi government has misled parliament and the Supreme Court and lied to the people of India.” Another Congress leader, Mallikarjun Kharge, went so far as to equate government use of Pegasus to treason. Ever since the controversy began, the government has denied allegations that the spyware was used for unauthorized surveillance, and parliament has evaded the opposition parties’ motions by stating the matter is before the Supreme Court.
FCC faces overwhelming rip-and-replace reimbursement requests.
In 2020, after US intelligence agencies raised concerns about telecom carriers using equipment from Chinese companies like Huawei, the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) instituted the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Reimbursement Program to “reimburse providers of advanced communications services for costs reasonably incurred for removing, replacing, and disposing of communications equipment and services.” At the time, ZDNet recounts, the FCC expected the “rip and replace” reimbursements would cost about $1.9 billion, which Congress set aside for the program, but it turns out they underestimated the cost of the program, and not by a little. According to a statement released by FCC chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel on Friday, telecom providers have currently requested reimbursements totaling $5.6 billion. Rosenworcel says the commission has received “over 181 applications from carriers who have developed plans to remove and replace equipment in their networks that pose a national security threat,” and that she “look[s] forward to working with Congress to ensure that there is enough funding available for this program to advance Congress’s security goals and ensure that the US will continue to lead the way on 5G security.” The Verge notes that the tab won’t necessarily actually rack up to $5.6 billion, as Congress hasn’t yet appropriated the funds and the applications are still pending approval.