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Understanding Digital Biosurveillance Using the ‘Plague Management Model’ of The Middle Ages



In Madness and Civilization (1961), Foucault discusses an epidemic – leprosy. Although, with monitoring and isolating the population, leprosy vanished at the end of the Middle Ages, but the structure and mechanisms of controlling the population with disciplinary interventions and regulations – not aiming at a single body, but the management of the entire population, remained functional. Foucault theorized and called this mechanism ‘biopower’ in The Will to Knowledge, Foucault’s first volume of The History of Sexuality (1976). Now, one may wonder how the Middle Ages epidemic (leprosy) and a 21st century pandemic (coronavirus) are similar, especially when both are antagonistic in their biological patterns – the former being less contagious and slow in its development, and later being highly contagious. What categorically unites these two plagues is the end product – a regulated and disciplined populace. During early modernity, the ‘Plague Model’, as Foucault describes, was superseded by a new model of power that had its roots in fear of the plague. “If it is true that the leper gave rise to rituals of exclusion and the great Confinement, then the plague gave rise to disciplinary projects” (Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison,1975). The fear of the plague created a space to construct a population that abided by the coercive laws without any resistance. And, for this reason, he further adds, “To see perfect disciplines functioning, rulers dreamt of the state of plague”, because for a governing body, utopia can only be created in a society that has been plagued and requires an exercise of disciplinary power by the government. 

What Foucault theorized then, has become a reality today. The Coronavirus pandemic has become a biopolitical project, surviving and thriving on the fear of the plague (the virus). As advised by the medical body, government bodies worldwide have deployed national surveillance, eliminating all democratic liberties under the pretext of a health-safety-survival model. Thereby, manufacturing disciplinary power mechanisms of the body and regulatory mechanisms of the population.

Deploying The Panopticon Gaze Amidst COVID-19 

As described by Foucault, the panopticon gaze blurs a subject’s association between himself in a ‘being seen/seeing’ dyad. For example, in a periphery ring, subject is seen by others without ever completely seeing. But, the authority guard of the ring standing on the tower sees everything without ever being seen. “The Panopticon is this case, becomes a marvelous machine which, whatever use one may wish to put it to, produces homogeneous effects of power” (Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison,1975). And, the power produced here, comes from the accumulation of knowledge gathered through observation in a circular motion, with knowledge and power reinforcing each other. This machine not only manufactures discipline through knowledge gathered through surveillance, but reinforces self-regulation methodologies within subjects as well. “He who is subjected to a field of visibility, and who knows it, assumes responsibility for the constraint of power; he makes them play spontaneously upon himself; he inscribes in himself the power relation in which he simultaneously plays both roles; he becomes the principle of his own subjugation.” (Foucault, 1977).

Now, consistent with Foucault’s notion of the panopticon gaze and its binary mechanism of surveillance and self-regulation as the unsurpassed form of social control in a society, one can deduce how the Panopticon Gaze, which was once a metaphor to study the relationship between the mechanism of fabricated social control of subjects in a disciplinary situation, is now a global reality amid the Coronavirus outbreak. From Russia, Philippines, India, Hungary, Ghana, to Israel, leaders have subjugated draconian laws to restrain, regulate and restrict the movement of civilians – a full-blown normalization of panopticon governmentality. For example, the Russian government introduced a surveillance mechanism back in 2020 to track the coronavirus-infected population. While this can be considered a precautionary measure to contain mass contamination, its deployment has surpassed the rudimentary level of monitored and controlled surveillance. From location tracking applications, CCTV cameras with facial recognition, tapping cell phone data, credit cards to QR codes, one can categorize this form of intrusive digital policies as nothing but a ‘cyber-gulag’. On the other hand, in India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made it mandatory in 2020 for 303 million employed Indians to download the Arogya Setu app, a sophisticated surveillance system, outsourced to a private operator, with no institutionalization oversight. This raised serious data security & privacy concerns. With no Indian legislation in check that protects the online privacy of Indians in-depth, the users of this app had no choice but to accept the clause dictated by the government. The terms and conditions of this app state clearly that the government can use the data for commercial purposes. Additionally, the policy states that the data can be retained for medical and administrative intervention. This interdepartmental exchange of private information is more scrupulous than surveillance policies deployed in countries like Singapore and Israel. 

The deployment of these draconian laws can be viewed as a method to exemplify a form of ‘biosurveillance’ – through which power is being exercised invisibly and permeating all aspects of our lives. The coronavirus pandemic has fortified a shift to a more intense and penetrating form of a biosurveillance culture. The real threat is not how these exorbitant and punitive laws are repressing the citizens, but how they are cautiously contrived and willingly woven in it. In other words – internalizing the idea that we require State-sponsored surveillance to stay safe and secure. In this context, voluntarily participation of subjects to be a part of mass surveillance to avoid the fear of plague, panoptic surveillance becomes an apparatus of manufacturing self-regulatory and obedient subjects, making the exercise of power easy to propagate and flourish.

A Three-fold Typology of Biosurveillance Amidst COVID-19

Panoptic biosurveillance that produces self-discipline, is just one way of deploying biopower methodologies on the populace. This process is a single-faceted approach that ensures that each subject is self-regulated. So, what about the population? How to assert control over the populace? This is achieved with biopolitics – where the State’s focus shifts from manufacturing disciplinary power mechanisms of the body to regulatory mechanisms of the population. Biopower here, is threaded through the fabric of the entire social order (Anders 2013; 3-4). This means that individuals are no longer simply subjected to power, but also vehicles it to produce a disciplined population (Rangan and Chow 2013; 401).

However, I think that the surveillance system that forms the nucleus via which biopower is generated, must be explored more than just a function of individual and populace control. We need to explore the typology of surveillance in order to understand this system in regards to COVID-19. The three-fold typology of biosurveillance exclusively functions to fortify biopower – surveillance as a means to self-discipline, disciplining the populace, and cessation of populace activities that threaten the cohesion of power. I have already discussed the first two typologies of the biosurveillance amidst COVID-19, in relation to Foucault’s concept of the panopticon surveillance. Let’s explore the last typology. So, how does biosurveillance becomes a means to terminate activities of citizens that possess threat to the continuity of power? By stripping the populace of its democratic liberties and rights to dissent – all in the name of healthcare and medical emergency. For example – Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte (on April 2nd, 2020) ordered police and military personnel to “shoot dead” any protestors, human rights activists, and opposition who would defy his lockdown measures. The manifestation of the proverb ‘Killing two birds with one stone’ became a reality, both literally and statistically. Soon after his authoritarian command, a 63-year-old man was shot dead by the military in Nasipit, a small town in the southern province of Agusan del Norte, on April 5th, 2020. Since last year, thousands of protestors and human rights activists in the Philippines have been imprisoned in crowded jails, which defies social distancing and magnifies the probability of mass contamination. This unprecedented health crisis should not become a weapon to annihilate dissent and control the population. “They should be used to effectively deal with the pandemic—nothing more, nothing less,” said, Michelle Bachelet, a United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. A similar narrative was deployed by the President of Ghana Nana Akufo-Addo, who introduced an ‘Imposition to Restrictions Act’ in 2020. This new law normalizes shooting, thrashing, and whipping anyone who defies the rules. This act not only gives the President the dominion to use the loaded gun at his own accord, but commands security officers to use guns, whip, and tear canisters against anyone, if found disobeying the lockdown measures. In its all account, this law neither has any sunset clause nor mentions COVID-19 in its legislation.

What one must question is the use of non-medical mandarins of powers to contain the virus and the deployment of coercive methodologies to preserve the pathological strategies of those in power. If this continues, then the power will emerge from authoritarian to totalitarian, with each citizen carefully fabricated and willingly woven into it. This will give birth to the classic dilemma of a liberal democracy – where you must do a rigorous analysis and strategize to de-commodify the healthcare sector, re-tool the Subject-State relation, without deserting the collective solidarity to fight the pandemic, or simply surrender to the State.

Parul Verma is a political analyst and a human rights activist. Her work analyses transnational conflict, peace-building and peace-keeping in relation to Israel-Palestine, Northern Ireland and Kashmir. She has also written extensively on minority lynching and violence against women in India. Her work has been published in more than 20+ academic journals and international media establishments. Her part-time job involves talking gibberish to her two naughty rabbits – Whiskey and Beer! For any query or feedback, contact her at parul_edu[at]

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The New World Order: The conspiracy theory and the power of the Internet



“The Illuminati, a mysterious international organisation made up of the world’s top political and social elites, controls the workings of the entire world behind the scenes”. This is the world’s most famous conspiracy theory about the New World Order.

For hundreds of years, legends about the Illuminati have been spread and many people currently believe that the Illuminati still exist. It is believed that the Illuminati operate in various fields such as global politics, military affairs, finance and mass media and control the historical process of the entire world.

The ultimate goal is to establish a New World Order. Nobody can prove it, but many people believe it. This is the greatest paradox about conspiracy theories.

In the 2009 film, Angels and Demons – based on Dan Brown’s best seller of the same name about Professor Langdon, played by Tom Hanks – the story of the Illuminati, who supposedly originated in Europe during the Age of Enlightenment, was recalled. There were physicists, mathematicians and astronomers who questioned the “erroneous teachings” of the authority of the Holy See and dedicated themselves to the scientific field of the search for truth.

Eventually, the Illuminati were forced to become a clandestine organisation and have continued to recruit members for hundreds of years to this day. In Angels and Demons, the historical facts are clearly questionable, and the movie appeared after the great economic crisis of 2007-2008.

The New World Order conspiracy theory has been circulating for a long time and is full of mysterious theories that, however, convince many people who are powerless and dissatisfied with the current state of the world.

The Illuminati, who advocate the establishment of a New World Order through the planning of a series of political and financial events (the financial tsunami of 2007-2008 is said to have been planned by the Illuminati), attempt to influence the course of world history, and ultimately establish an authoritarian world government.

Supporters of the New World Order theory believe that even the powerful US government is now just a puppet government. While another “shadow government” made up of a few people makes decisions that will change the fate of the planet.

You might think that all of the above is just crackpot theories. Many people, however, believe this is true. According to a 2013 poll conducted by the Public Policy Polling Foundation, 28% of US voters believe that the New World Order is actually taking hold.

Brian L. Keeley, a professor of philosophy at Pitts College who devotes himself to the study of modern conspiracy theories, believes that an important feature of conspiracy theorists is that they cite some trivial and overlooked incidents and then propose a perfect explanation compared to an embarrassed official response. The reason why the conspiracy theory explanation can be widely disseminated is that it has no argumentation process to deny. It is just a judgement that jumps directly from hypothesis to conclusion. In the argumentation process, it is only a subjective interpretation of the event.

Nevertheless, for the public that does not fully understand the incident, the conspiracy theory provides an “explanation” for the unknown part of the said incident, and this “explanation” cannot be denied (because its very existence is not corroborated by real arguments and facts). It is therefore recognised as a valid argument by many people.

For example, no one has substantial evidence to prove that the Illuminati actually exist, but no one can prove that the Illuminati are purely fictitious. Therefore, you cannot deny their existence because their existence is “perfection without evidence”.

Columnist Martha Gill wrote in The Guardian on the subject, describing the Illuminati as the most enduring conspiracy theory organisation in world history.

“Conspiracy theories relating to the 1969 moon landing mission, the Kennedy assassination, the 9/11 attacks, etc., are all limited to a specific time and place. But conspiracy theories supporting the existence of the Illuminati can connect them. Anything about these connections, however, is difficult to prove”. In other words, the supporters of conspiracy theories may have common imagination and attribute everything to this organisation, so that every irrational phenomenon in the world can be explained.

Although no one can prove the real existence of the Illuminati, there is actually an alleged “global shadow government” in the world whose name is the Bilderberg Group. The Bilderberg Group holds an annual world-class private meeting and participants include elites from all walks of society such as government, business, media, science and technology.

Known as the “World’s Most Mysterious Conference”, the Bilderberg Group invites various famous political and economic figures to participate in its meetings every year.

Prince Bernhard van Lippe-Biesterfeld (1911-2004) held the first meeting in 1954. As the venue for the meeting was the Bilderberg Hotel in Oosterbeek, that name was used as the name of the group.

The existence of the Bilderberg Group is not a secret, but the content of the topics discussed at the Conferences is absolutely confidential and mainstream media cannot report on the content of the meetings.

The Bilderberg Group issues a press release every year to introduce the Conference participants and the outline of the topics discussed. Over the years, participants have come from many places, including Prince Philip of Edinburgh (1921-2021) of the British Royal Family, Crown Prince Charles, former British Prime Ministers, French President Macron, German Chancellor Merkel, former US Presidents Bush and Clinton, and even Bill Gates and other Internet giants. There were also Italians, as reported years ago in a newspaper of our country.

The 2018 Conference was held in Turin, Italy, in June. According to the description on the Bilderberg Group’s official website, the main topics included European populism, the development of artificial intelligence, quantum computer technology and the “post-truth” era. Obviously the actual content and results of the meeting’s discussion have never been reported.

Therefore, the Bilderberg Group has naturally become a locus where conspiracy theorists want to draw material. They describe the Bilderberg Group as true evidence of the theory that a very small number of elites controls the world, and the participants are planning a New World Order.

On the subject of strange things, let us give some examples. In June 2018, the British Royal Family was also caught up in conspiracy theories. When Prince Harry and his wife Meghan attended a show, they were caught on camera motionless, like two stiff and dull robots. Later related clips went viral on the Internet and netizens were in an uproar: many people believed that the distinguished members of the Royal Family were actually robots developed by high technology.

However, the management of the London museum, Madame Tussauds, later explained the mystery by stating that Harry and Meghan were only played by two actors who wore extremely high-realism wax masks on their faces – all to promote an exhibition of wax statues – and inadvertently caused an uproar.

In that short video, Harry and Meghan did not change their facial appearance and their expressions were stiff just like robots. Consequently, conspiracy theorists used this as evidence that they were robots secretly built by the British Royal Family.

This argument is an extension of the ‘trivial evidence’ mentioned above. The argument proponents ignore any argumentation process and directly draw the final conclusion through the above stated “trivial evidence”. This conclusion is highly topical and quite appealing. With the fast spread of the Internet, the “quick truth” will naturally be recognised and sought after by many people.

I think many people still remember the “Mandela effect” that spread wildly across the Internet in the early years as a false memory. The name “Mandela effect” is believed to have come from Fiona Broome, a self-described “paranormal consultant”, who created a website called the “Mandela effect”. Supporters of the ‘Mandela effect’ claim to “remember” that former South African President Mandela died in prison in the 1980s. But in reality, after being released from prison, Mandela served as President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999 and died in December 2013.

So why should anyone believe this seemingly absurd statement? The Internet has become a support platform for a lot of false content, fake news, as well as unreasonableness and lack of justification. When someone shared that ‘false memory’ with others on the Internet, many people believed it to be true, and even suddenly recalled having that memory: “Mandela died in prison that year”.

As a result, lies inconsistent with facts continue to spread. The lie is repeated thousands of times and many people consider it to be the truth: this learning phase is the first misleading rule on the Internet.

In the Internet era, multidimensional and multiplatform features have generated a number of online “malignancies” of conspiracy theories. Moreover, their dissemination ability is not limited to “believers” only. Since online social media provide a widespread and wide dissemination platform, one passes it onto ten people, ten spread it to a hundred, a hundred to a thousand, and so it goes on in geometric fashion, thus turning a ‘hot’ topic on the Internet into an absolute truth. Those who want to believe are naturally prepared and willing to do so. Moreover, these false opinions on the Internet may even have an impact on the real world.

For example, at the political level, everyone can now comment and participate in the online arena. For politicians to get the right to speak and set the agenda, the key is to rely on the public’s direction on the Internet. The Internet discourse has become the dominant factor of the political storytelling, and not vice versa. The characteristics of social networks are precisely the breeding ground for conspiracy theories.

The Internet is easy to spread among the public and it is exactly the breeding ground for conspiracy theories.

Nowadays, conspiracy theories are enough to influence politics and even political developments. A specific conspiracy theory gains a number of supporters through the Internet that promotes it to become a highly debated topic among the public. Consequently, it enters the real political arena coming from the virtual community and its influence can change the direction of governmental decisions.

Looking at it from another perspective, when conspiracy theories are put on the Internet and continue to proliferate – regardless of whether the Illuminati exist or not – they are enough to establish a New World Order. The real-world public opinions, as well as the composition of opinions and the basis of social discussions are changed, and thus world’s countries, politics and rulers are affected.

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USA and Australia Worry About Cyber Attacks from China Amidst Pegasus Spyware



Pegasus Spyware Scandal has shaken whole India and several other countries. What will be its fallout no one knows as we know only tip of iceberg. Amidst Pegasus Spyware Scandal USA and Australia both have shown serious concerns about Cyber Attacks on US and Australian interests. Both say that China is hub of malware software and both face millions of such attacks daily.

I am trying to understand why a software is needed to spy on a particular individual when all calls, messages, data, emails are easily accessible from server. In most of cases these servers are located in USA and some cases these are located in host country. In certain sensitive cases Government Agencies have their own server like Central Intelligence Agency and hundreds of other agencies and military establishment world over including India. Now point is who installs those servers.

A couple of years back I had talked to Mr Mike Molloy who is Chief Executive Officer of Orion Global Technologies previously known as Orion SAS. He had explained me how his company installs servers in host countries on request of private or gov bodies. He talks about contract and trust. That means even when a company or Gov buys a server or software for designated uses the “Secrecy” Factor remain on discretion of company which has supplied server or software.

Now  if all data, e-mail, chat, messages, calls are accessible to Gov as per law and technology (Through Server all components of Communication are accessible and thats why  me and you see start seeing call recording of a person even after many years later), I am unable to understand why a Gov will be needing a software to Spy on any one.

Now coming to where Australia and USA wants to carry the whole debate.

Australian Foreign Minister Sen Marise Payne said, “Australian Government joins international partners in expressing serious concerns about malicious cyber activities by China’s Ministry of State Security.

“In consultation with our partners, the Australian Government has determined that China’s Ministry of State Security exploited vulnerabilities in the Microsoft Exchange software to affect thousands of computers and networks worldwide, including in Australia. These actions have undermined international stability and security by opening the door to a range of other actors, including cybercriminals, who continue to exploit this vulnerability for illicit gain”, She further added.

She opined, ”The Australian Government is also seriously concerned about reports from our international partners that China’s Ministry of State Security is engaging contract hackers who have carried out cyber-enabled intellectual property theft for personal gain and to provide commercial advantage to the Chinese Government”.

She warned China by saying, “Australia calls on all countries – including China – to act responsibly in cyberspace.  China must adhere to the commitments it has made in the G20, and bilaterally, to refrain from cyber-enabled theft of intellectual property, trade secrets and confidential business information with the intent of obtaining competitive advantage”.

On other hand USA’s The National Security Agency (NSA), Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) released a Cybersecurity Advisory on Chinese State-Sponsored Cyber Operations. National Security Advisor said, ”Chinese state-sponsored cyber activity poses a major threat to U.S. and allied systems. These actors aggressively target political, economic, military, educational, and critical infrastructure personnel and organizations to access valuable, sensitive data. These cyber operations support China’s long-term economic and military objectives”.

The information in this advisory builds on NSA’s previous release “Chinese State-Sponsored Actors Exploit Publicly Known Vulnerabilities.” The NSA, CISA, and FBI recommended mitigations empower our customers to reduce the risk of Chinese malicious cyber activity, and increase the defensive posture of their critical networks. 

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Afghan issue can not be understood from the simplistic lens of geopolitical blocs




Authors: Tridivesh Singh Maini  and Varundeep Singh*

On July 14, 2021 a terror attack was carried out in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) province in which a number of Chinese engineers, working on the Dasu hydropower project (a project which is part of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor) were killed. The attack predictably evinced a strong response from China. The Chinese foreign minister, Wang Yi speaking before a Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Foreign Minister’s meeting asked the Taliban to disassociate itself from ‘terrorist elements’ and in a meeting with Pakistan Foreign Minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, asked Pakistan to bring the perpetrators to book. Earlier in April 2021, a car bomb attack took place at Serena hotel in Quetta which was hosting China’s Ambassador to Pakistan (four people were killed and twelve were injured)

Wang Yi significantly praised the Ashraf Ghani government, for its attempts towards building national unity and providing effective governance. Beijing clearly realizes that its economic investments in the country as well as big ticket infrastructural projects can not remain safe if there is no security. Afghanistan also criticized Pakistan for its role in sending 10000 Jihadis to Taliban, this is important in the context of the region’s geopolitics.

 Like all other countries, Beijing and Islamabad, would have expected uncertainty after the US withdrawal of troops but perhaps over estimated their capabilities in dealing with the turbulence which had been predicted by many.

Importance of Chinese Foreign Minister’s statements

Wang Yi’s statements are important because days earlier a Taliban spokesman, Suhail Shaheen had praised China and welcomed its role in the country’s reconstruction. He had also assured China that those involved in the insurgency in Xinjiang would not be given refuge in Afghanistan (one of China’s major concerns has been the support provided by Taliban to the East Turkmenistan movement)

While Beijing may have opened back channels with the Taliban and realized that it needs to adapt to the changing geopolitics, recent developments would have increased its skepticism vis-à-vis the Taliban. On the other hand, Russia has been more favorable towards the Taliban. Russia’s Deputy Chief of Mission in India, Roman Babushkin argued that the Taliban are a reality which needs to be accepted, and also that any military activities without a political process are insufficient.

Babushkin did make the point that for successful negotiations, Taliban needed to end violence.

‘that Taliban should deal with the problem of terrorism and other related issues in order to become legitimate, in order to [get] delisted [at the UN Security Council], in order to go ahead with the future Afghanistan and creation of the inclusive government

It would be pertinent to point out, that Zamir Kabulov, Russian President’s Afghanistan envoy went a step further and said that the Afghan government was not doing enough to make talks with Taliban a success.

China’s statements subtle warning to the Taliban, indicating its reservations, and praise of Ghani indicate a possibility of greater understanding between Washington and Beijing (even though Beijing has repeatedly attributed the current troubles in Afghanistan to Washington’s decision to withdraw troops).

Can US and China find common ground

 It remains to be seen if Biden who has exhibited dexterity on a number of complex issues reaches out to Xi Jinping to find common ground with regard to Afghanistan. Significantly, while US-Turkey relations had witnessed a downward trajectory and Biden has been critical of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s authoritarian tendencies and Human rights record, both leaders met on the sidelines of the NATO Summit in June 2021. During the meeting Turkey agreed to secure Kabul Airport. US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan while commenting on Turkey’s assurance said

‘The clear commitment from the leaders was established that Turkey would play a lead role in securing Hamid Karzai International Airport, and we are now working through how to execute to get to that,’

Taliban earlier this week warned Turkey of ‘consequences’ if the Middle Eastern nation increased its troop presence in Afghanistan.


Russia’s statements with regard to the Taliban indicate that it is not totally on the same page as China (its prior experience in Afghanistan has made it more cautious and circumspect), and that the Afghan issue can not be understood from the simplistic lens of geo-political blocs and traditional lenses. All major stakeholders in Afghanistan, both within the region and outside, seem to be understandably befuddled by the turn of events. It is not just the US, but even China which would be worried not just from an economic stand point but the overall security implications of the turmoil in Afghanistan. The terror attack in KPK indicates that other CPEC related projects could also face threats from militant groups. Beijing would thus need to be quick to react to the overtures from the Taliban in order to secure its economic assets and lives of Chinese workers in neighbouring Pakistan.

 It is especially important for Washington, Beijing and other important stakeholders in the region to work together for dealing with the near term turbulence as well as long term challenges Afghanistan is likely to face.

*Varundeep Singh is an Independent Policy Analyst.

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