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India Allows Private Firms, Start-Ups a Sneak Peek Into ISRO Data for New Tech Development


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New Delhi (Sputnik): The government of India has eased policies, permitting the nation’s start-ups and private firms to be part of deep space missions that would be undertaken by the country’s apex space body ISRO. Access to ISRO’s geospatial data would ensure the development of newer technology at lower costs for Indian firms.

Indian Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Monday acknowledged the work being done in the space sector by private Indian companies. In a bid to open up a level playing field for private and start-up sector companies eager to be part of Indian space missions, the minister announced assistance to them from ISRO’s data assets.

In the coming days, a special geospatial data policy will be released by the government of India which will help tech companies in the country to use satellite-based data collected by ISRO to develop different apps and technologies that would benefit the nation.

ISRO confirmed the news on its Instagram handle as well. 

Until now, Indian companies that were, for instance, working on agricultural or geo-positioning apps have been emptying their pockets, trying to mine out data from international sources.

But, with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi planning to go bullish on making India “aatma-nirbhar” (self-sufficient), the new geospatial data policy will save Indian tech companies a lot of money, because all the data they need will be made available to them from the country’s space agency, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).

As of December 2019, India has had 17 national-level geospatial policies and rules (four in the draft stage) under six ministries and departments – that are not bonded by an agreement even with each other to share data collected by them or withing their agencies.

A national geospatial policy has been under construction in India since 2015, which is expected to be released soon now that Sitharaman has confirmed aid to Indian tech players concerning space-collected data for their use.

ISRO has over sixty space missions in its kitty for the next five years, including deep space explorations on Mars and Venus along with a second-landing attempt on the lunar surface.

One of ISRO’s main missions for 2020-2021 is “Gaganyaan”- a manned mission which will send a three-member crew to orbit around the lower parts of Earth.

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UK Reportedly Mulls Cutting Tariffs on US Agricultural Imports in ‘Big Concession Package’ Amid Trade Talks


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Last week, London and Washington launched formal talks on a free trade deal in the wake of the UK’s departure from the European Union. There are many things at stake in this process, which promises to be a “hard bargain”, including criticisms over American food and environmental standards that Britain may now be forced to accept.

The UK’s Department for International Trade is planning to cut tariffs on US farming imports in a “big concession package” to Washington which is purported to advance trade negotiations, the Financial Times reported, citing government officials familiar with the developments.

The initiative is led by UK International Trade Secretary Liz Truss, but according to the report, certain officials from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, including Secretary George Eustice, oppose the move, arguing that cutting costs on certain American imports will jeopardise British farmers.

AP Photo / Kirsty Wigglesworth

Britain’s Secretary of State for International Trade Elizabeth Truss arrives for a Cabinet meeting at 10 Downing Street in London, Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2019

There are also some concerns about environmental standards regarding US agricultural products, as critics earlier claimed that free trade negotiations will force Britain to accept commodities that were previously limited by EU rules, including chicken washed in chlorine or meat boosted with hormones.

On 5 May, Secretary Liz Truss and US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer officially launched negotiations on a free trade agreement, that will be conducted in a virtual format. The two promised to reach a deal as quick as possible, citing the need to jointly recover from challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic.

“As we sit down at the negotiating table today, be assured that we will drive a hard bargain to secure a deal that benefits individuals and businesses in every region and nation of the UK,” Truss said ahead of the first negotiating session, echoing Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s earlier statement that “a hard bargain” should be driven in negotiations with Washington as the UK also seeks to lower tariffs on its exports.

So far, the UK has been only the seventh-largest US trading partner in goods. In 2018, the total two-way trade was estimated to be worth $127.1 billion, as American exports to Britain reached $66.3 billion, according to the Office of the US Trade Representative. Boris Johnson repeatedly emphasised the importance of championing free trade with the new deal following Britain’s final divorce with the European Union on 31 January.

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John Ratcliffe, Trump’s Pick for Intelligence Chief, Follows a Slew of QAnon Accounts

For a nominee to helm the U.S. government’s intelligence apparatus, Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas) draws on some unusual sources of information. 

Ratcliffe’s official, verified campaign Twitter account follows several accounts on the political fringe, including a 9/11 Truther account with just one follower besides himself and four promoting the outlandish QAnon conspiracy theory, which posits that the world is run by a cabal of Democratic pedophile-cannibals — and has been ruled a potential source of domestic terrorism by the FBI. 

The conspiracy theorists followed by Ratcliffe, whose nomination for director of national intelligence goes before the Senate intelligence committee Tuesday morning, cover a bizarre range of beliefs. They posit that John F. Kennedy Jr. faked his death to help Trump to take down the Deep State. Others claim a Democratic sex dungeon exists in in a Washington pizzeria. But Ratcliffe and the QAnon promoters he follows have one thing in common: utter loyalty to Trump.

Even before Ratcliffe’s QAnon interest was known, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), a committee member, told The Daily Beast, “Congressman Ratcliffe is a partisan politician who has spent the last two years promoting conspiracy theories in defense of Donald Trump.”

It’s not clear whether Ratcliffe followed conspiracy theorists himself, or whether it was done by someone else with access to his Twitter account. The QAnon accounts Ratcliffe follows were first noted by CQ Roll Call editor Ryan Kelly on Twitter.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence referred questions about Ratcliffe’s Twitter account to his congressional office, which didn’t respond to a request for comment. 

Veteran intelligence officials expressed alarm the Senate may soon confirm a Trump loyalist atop the U.S.’s 16 intelligence agencies. “Ratcliffe would be the least qualified person to run the intelligence community, ever, and that includes Ric Grenell,” said former CIA and National Counterterrorism Center analyst Aki Peritz, referring to the acting director of national intelligence. “The hardest job for any intelligence officer is to speak truth to power. Based on Ratcliffe’s past performance, it’s doubtful he can resist the urge to politicize intelligence on behalf of Donald Trump.” 

The willingness of a likely director of national intelligence to entertain conspiracy theorists highlights what Democrats on the Senate intelligence committee consider Ratcliffe’s unfitness for the job. Two committee sources said the minority Democrats intend to press the nominee on his loyalty to Trump – the quality that earned Ratcliffe his nomination – something he displayed with zeal in attacking Robert Mueller’s Russia inquiry and portraying the House Democrats’ impeachment of Trump as a frame-up job. 

At Tuesday’s hearing, the Democrats intend to bring up everything from Russia to the novel coronavirus, where a divide has emerged between the intelligence agencies and the administration over whether the virus was man-made in China. They intend also to question Ratcliffe over the post-impeachment purge of intelligence officials, including several from the office of the director of national intelligence, most recently inspector general Michael Atkinson

“He has little experience in intelligence, and already had to withdraw his nomination once after lying about his resume. The pandemic has shown how putting unqualified loyalists in critical jobs leads to disaster,” said Wyden. “Any Republican who cares for the security of our country should think hard about the consequences of supporting the least qualified, most partisan person ever nominated for DNI.”

But that attests to the expectation on the committee for a party-line vote – which will be enough to advance Ratcliffe’s nomination to the full Senate, where his confirmation can proceed on the same basis. 

Opposition to Ratcliffe had been bipartisan the last time Trump nominated him to run Liberty Crossing, the DNI’s headquarters, in 2019. It lasted a week before Ratcliffe withdrew, following reporting on his false claim to have arrested 300 undocumented immigrants in a single day. 

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