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CURRENT AFFAIRS | 23 FEBRUARY 2016


Apple CEO: US should withdraw demand for iPhone hack help


Apple Inc. CEO Tim Cook said in an email to employees on Monday that the U.S.government should withdraw its demand that Apple help the FBI hack a locked iPhone used byshooter in last year’s deadly shooting in San Bernardino, California.
The message is accompanied by an online question and answer page that reiterates many of the comments Mr. Cook made in a public letter after a magistrate judge’s order last week. It also brushes aside several key government claims, including an assertion that the company was acting out of business interests in saying it would not cooperate with an FBI investigation of the shootings.
A U.S. magistrate has ordered the company to break its iPhone security protocols to assist federal officials probing the December shootings.The emerging legal fight has sparked a debate on government power, privacy, digital rights, public safety and security.
The county-owned iPhone was used by Syed Farook, who along with his wife Tashfeen Malik,killed 14 people during the attack.
Mr. Cook states in the letter to employees that the company has “no tolerance or symhy for terrorists” and believes abiding by the judge’s order would be unlawful and an expansion of government powers, and would set a dangerous precedent that would essentially create a backdoor to the encrypted iPhone.
This case is about much more than a single phone or a single investigation,” Mr. Cook
“At stake is the data security of hundreds of millions of law-abiding people and setting a dangerous precedent that threatens everyone’s civil liberties.”The email acknowledges that it is technically possible for Apple to do what the judge ordered, but that it’s “something we believe is too dangerous to do.”Apple also points to the difficulty of keeping such a “master key” safe once it has been created. The government has said that Apple could keep the specialized technology it would create to help officials hack the phone, bypassing a security time delay and feature that erases all data after 10 consecutive, unsuccessful attempts to guess the unlocking passcode.If the company’s engineers were to do as ordered, Apple would do its best to protect the technology, but Mr. Cook said the company “would be relentlessly attacked by hackers and cybercriminals.”“The only way to guarantee such a powerful tool isn’t abused and doesn’t fall into the wrong hands is to never create it,” Apple states in the memo.
The company has until Friday to formally protest the ruling in court.FBI Director James Comey said in an online post Sunday that Apple owes investigative cooperation to the victims and said the dispute wasn’t about creating legal precedent.“We simply want the chance, with a search warrant, to try to guess the terrorist’s passcode without the phone essentially self-destructing and without it taking a decade to guess correctly. That’s it,” Mr. Comey wrote. “We don’t want to break anyone’s encryption or set a master key loose on the land.”Mr. Cook said the government should withdraw its demand to the judge and form a group to discuss the issues brought up by this case. He said Apple would participate in such an undertaking.
Nicole Kidman wins best actress prize at WhatsOnStage awards
Nicole Kidman has won best actress in a play honours at London’s WhatsOnStage Awards for her depiction of a real-life scientific heroine in “Photograph 51.”

Kidman played Rosalind Franklin, one of the team that discovered the double helix structure of DNA, in Anne Ziegler’s drama, which also was named best new play.

Kidman said returning to the stage after 17 years was “so fulfilling, but it was terrifying. The stage fright was pretty extreme.”

Benedict Cumberbatch was named best actor in a play for “Hamlet,” which was also named best revival.

Judi Dench was named best supporting actress for “The Winter’s Tale.” Musical performance prizes went to Imelda Staunton for “Gypsy” and Matt Henry for “Kinky Boots.”

The awards are sponsored by website whatsonstage.com and decided by public vote.
Rattlesnake colony on uninhabited island
The US state of Massachusetts is planning to set up a colony of venomous rattlesnakes on an uninhabited island, sparking fears that the dangerous serpents could escape and attack people.

The Department of Fisheries and Wildlife wants to make a Quabbin Reservoir island home to the venomous timber rattlesnake, which is indigenous to the state.

Governor Charlie Baker is on board for using the unpopulated island for that purpose. He calls the project

“fairly short money” at a few hundred thousand dollars, and said he thinks it is important to preserve indigenous species.

“By creating a colony on an island like that, they are far less likely to run into people who are on the trails and working their way around Quabbin reservoir than they would be if we did nothing,” Mr. Baker was quoted as saying by CBS News.

He downplayed safety concerns among locals, some of whom are worried the snakes could get off the island and attack people in the area.

“If they swim off the island, first of all, it’s a long way from the islands being discussed to get to shoreline anyway. And secondly, if they do, their likelihood of survival is pretty small,” Mr. Baker said.

The state’s plan to revive a native endangered species on a remote island, however, does sound like a horror movie —— breed and raise 150 venomous timber rattlesnakes until they are good and strong, then turn them loose on protected land in the middle of the Quabbin Reservoir.

“Well, they [the snakes] swim,” Peter Mallett, president of the Millers River Fishermen’s Association, who opposes the plan, was quoted as saying by the Boston Globe.

The state Department of Fisheries and Wildlife has offered assurances that a small island full of rattlesnakes would pose no threat.

Any that escape the island will die during the following winter, unable to make it back to their nest, said Tom French, assistant director of the department.

And in reality, rattlesnakes are shy creatures which bite people only when threatened, he said.

“People are afraid that we’re going to put snakes in a place of public use and that they are going to breed like rabbits and spread over the countryside and kill everybody,” he said while representing the state at a public meeting Tuesday to address the concerns.

Timber rattlesnakes once slithered through forests and feasted on mice and chipmunks all over Massachusetts. But deforestation over the last two centuries left little habitat that allowed for their deep underground nests in winter.

Today, only a few isolated populations remain in the Blue Hills, the Connecticut River valley, and Berkshire County.
Driving license, RC to go ‘Smart’ way

 Kerala Chief Minister to roll out driving licence and RC book in smart card format on February 25

Govt. to divest 5% in NTPC
The government announced it will be divesting five per cent of its stake in NTPC through the offer-for-sale route on Tuesday. The sale is expected to garner Rs.5,029 crore at a floor price of Rs.122 per share. The stake sale is to be spread over two days, with institutional bidders getting to buy shares on Tuesday and retail investors on Wednesday. The retail investors have 20 per cent of the shares reserved for them.“The floor price for the offer shall be Rs.122 per equity share,” NTPC said in a regulatory filing with the Bombay Stock Exchange. The company’s stock closed at Rs.126.85 on Monday. Floor price the five per cent stake in NTPC works out to 41.22 crore shares. At the floor price of Rs.122 per share, this could fetch the government Rs.5,029 crore. The government has been struggling to meet the disinvestment target of Rs.69,500 crore for the financial year. With about 40 days left in the financial year, the government has managed to realise only Rs.13,330 crore through divestment which is less than 20 per cent of the budgeted target. Prior to this, the government divested its holdings in five other PSUs — Rural Electrification Corporation (Rs.1, 608 crore), Power Finance Corporation (Rs.1, 671 crore), Dredging Corporation of India Ltd (Rs.53.33 crore), Indian Oil Corporation (Rs.9,369 crore) and Engineers India (Rs.640 crore).


ICRA lowers outlook for 3 PSU banks
 
Rating agency ICRA on Monday lowered the outlook for three public sector banks from stable to negative after these banks reported loss in the October-December quarter.

These banks are Indian Overseas Bank, Central Bank of India and UCO Bank. Indian Overseas Bank posted a loss of Rs.1,425 crore during the third quarter while Central Bank of India posted a loss of Rs.837 crore and UCO Bank Rs.1,497 crore during the quarter.

The agency also downgraded rating of various borrowing programmes of Bank of India (BoI) which also reported loss of Rs.1,510 crore after its provisions surged by 128 per cent.


G20 meet beginning Feb 26
 
G20 meeting of Finance Ministers and central bank governors on February 26-27 in Shanghai.

Additional Secretary from Finance Ministry Dinesh Sharma would be attending the meeting as most of the officials, including Economic Affairs Secretary Shaktikanta Das. Reserve Bank Governor Raghuram Rajan will participate in the deliberations.

China is currently holding the chair of the G20, which is a grouping of 20 developed and developing nations. The G20 Summit, in which Prime Ministers and heads of states of these countries will participate, will be held at Hangzhou on September 4-5.

The G20 meetings assume significance as it comes they come in the backdrop of troubled global economy and volatility in stock and currency markets.

International Monetary Fund (IMF) in its latest World Economic Outlook has lowered global growth projections to 3.4 per cent for 2016, from earlier estimated 3.6 per cent.

India, however, stands out as a bright spot among major economies as it is expected to clock a growth rate of 7.6 per cent in 2015-16 as per CSO’s estimates.

Indian origin teenager in NSW squad
Young off-spinner Arjun Nair, the Canberra-born son of Indian immigrants, has been included in the New South Wales (NSW) squad for their upcoming Sheffield Shield match against South Australia.

The 17-year-old Nair has been turning heads with his abilities to bowl the ‘doosra’ to perfection. It has been learnt that the Blues selectors told Nair on Sunday evening that he had been included in the NSW squad for their clash against the Redbacks at Coffs Harbour starting on Thursday.

With an action similar to that of Carribean spinner Sunil Narine, Nair can turn the ball both ways. The deceit with which the ball is delivered has made the NSW selectors take note of this young talent.

“Arjun Nair is one you need to look out for, he’s a massive talent,” NSW coach Trent Johnston told Fairfax Media before the start of the season.

“I saw him play NSW versus Queensland schoolboys and I said to Freddy [NSW state talent manager David Freedman]: ‘I don’t care what he’s doing, he’s going to be playing in my [NSW] 19s [team]’ For a guy to be able to bowl like that, turn it both ways legally ... I would not be surprised if he was here training with the big boys in the next couple of years.”

Nair, a Sydney Thunder rookie, made his first-grade debut for Hawkesbury as a 15-year-old. He has enjoyed a good run with both bat and ball in the last one year. Nair starred in the recent under-19 tri-series against New Zealand and Pakistan in Dubai with 10 wickets and an 89-ball century.

He returned impressive figures of 9 for 75 from 39.5 overs in a recent Futures League match against ACT and followed it up with 4-31 from 20.3 overs in a grade match on the weekend.

With Nathan Lyon in New Zealand and Stephen O’Keefe recovering from a finger surgery, the Indian origin off-spinner will be on standby for Will Somerville who too is not certain to take to the field due to a finger injury.

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