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The transatlantic variants

While the Americans and Europeans both call a sport football, they play a very different game. This difference is rooted not only in culture but in the rules of the game that provide rewards for goals, and penalties for breaching allowances. In the case of privacy regulations too, such a marked distinction is visible. With the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) coming into effect on May 25, 2018, the absence of a comparable regulation across the Atlantic poses a question for India: What path should it take? Should it follow the U.S. or Europe? Or, in fact, should India take the lead in this regard?

American exceptionalism

Last year, in November, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in Carpenter v. United States, which many commentators termed as one of the most critical electronic surveillance case in decades. Among other finely threaded legal arguments was the “third party doctrine”. It reasons that once a person turns over her data to a third party (such as a bank or a website), her expectation of privacy ends. This severely cripples the immunity that protects people from “unreasonable search and seizures”, thereby permitting the government to requisition data from third parties such as banks. Our Supreme Court realised the error in this narrow doctrine, rejecting it more than a decade ago in the case of District Registrar v. Canara Bank, ruling that our privacy protections would continue to apply as they ultimately vest in a person rather than the possession of personal artefacts. Another area where the U.S. seems to be a poor defender of privacy and data protection is when it comes to the conduct of private parties. With revelations around Cambridge Analytica and growing concern around the power of technology companies, new concerns have come to the fore. The consumer interest approach enforced by the Federal Trade Commission for unfair and deceptive trade practices and a panoply of sectoral regulators and state laws are an ineffective substitute to a federal regulator that draws its power from a comprehensive data protection law. This is not only a deficiency in the absence of law, but a fundamental design error in which legal regulation has been designed to protect property, rather than people.

While the U.S. may present a dismal picture for data protection, it has seen an incremental movement towards surveillance reform after the disclosures made by Edward Snowden on surveillance programmes. While data protection and surveillance may seem like separate issues, they build off each other since they both concern personal data — greater government surveillance weakens and hurts data protection offered by private companies. Even before the disclosures, the U.S. had an imperfect body under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which has the legal authority to pass interception orders. We in India have no such counterpart or even a bare acknowledgement that interception requires prior judicial sanction. Even existing procedures which are supposed to act as safeguards are flouted with little repercussions. For instance, evidence which is gathered illegally in the U.S. may eventually lead to an acquittal, but our courts have consistently reasoned that such an impropriety at best could lead to a departmental inquiry against the erring official. Even when it seems we are much more progressive in our constitutional doctrine, there always remains room for learning.

Growing European influence

In contrast, the GDPR seems like as a modern, progressive text. The GDPR is in a lot of ways closer to our constitutional understanding of data protection as articulated by the Puttaswamy judgement last August, in which nine judges of the Supreme Court unanimously held privacy to be a pivot for our fundamental rights. So when the GDPR provides for an explicit consent-based mechanism and continuing control for users, it seems to be setting a legislative template for India. However, it is not as if there are no risks in parroting the European solution. When it provides a “strong law” for users, the GDPR also seems like a strong-arm law to trade and commerce. Two common business objections are made. The first cites a rise in costs that would impact users, in which a bureaucratic apparatus would require companies to pass on a data protection tax. Such an argument is clearly out of step with the realisation of recent months that leaving personal data unprotected erodes trust in technology.

The second objection concerns the wider, sectoral ambitions of India’s IT entrepreneurs who ideologise permission-less innovation. They argue that regulation will make them unable to compete globally. This is incorrect on several counts, beside being self-defeating. It ignores that privacy and data protection are inherent to the coming waves of innovation. Data protection will act as a regulatory springboard to the next generation of online products and services. This, in turn, will provide a cleaner, sustainable and rights-friendly alternative to the existing theology of treating data as a fossil fuel. If anything, “strong” data protection is beneficial for the long-term health of the technology sector by improving user trust and sectoral competitiveness.

If we hasten, we are sure to fall. Blind adoption of the GDPR would present immediate peril for several reasons. As an ambitious project, the text of the GDPR has tremendous breadth and is riddled with business exceptions which may provide porous sieves for personal data. While refinements may be incrementally made in Europe, we in India at the outset need to have foresight in adopting the drafting choices of a foreign, even if influential, text. For instance, two areas where concern arises are its impact on the right to free speech and expression and the right to information laws. A joint statement by two of the leading digital rights organisations, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Article 19, have stated that in the context of the right to be forgotten, the GDPR “poses a significant risk of misuse to stifle free expression online”.

Much closer to home, there has been constant worry by activists defending the embattled Right to Information Act. Their prior experience makes them wary, as the judiciary has been frequently citing privacy to undermine government transparency. For instance, in Girish Deshpande v. Central Information Commissioner, the Supreme Court upheld an order denying access to the income tax returns of a public servant. Hence, every effort should be made that the motivation to correct the absence of a data protection law does not end up hurting individuals by making government opaque and unaccountable.

Synthesise carefully

As India stands at a crossroads, it should chart its course picking up the best ideas and practices that promote user control over data. This requires adaptation from both the U.S. and the GDPR. Our challenges are extensive, and our interests diverse. Here virtue lies in the humility to learn from others and care to protect our residents. As a public policy goal, we should borrow freely but use such knowledge within legal regulation to enlarge individual liberty.

b) The Russian ride: on Modi’s meeting with Putin

With his visit to Sochi to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin for a day-long “informal summit”, Prime Minister Narendra Modi appeared to set a new normal in his foreign policy outreach. As was his Wuhan meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, the Sochi visit was aimed at resetting and rebalancing bilateral ties that have weakened over the past few years. The special understanding between India and Russia has frayed, with India drifting closer to the U.S. and Russia to China. The personal touches — hugs, handshakes, a boat ride on the Black Sea — projected the impression of two strong leaders addressing each other’s concerns “man to man”. Substantively, Mr. Modi’s visit was premised on a number of new realities facing India. First, India’s existing dependence on Russian military hardware, with orders for about $12 billion more in the pipeline, must not be jeopardised at any cost. These have been made more difficult by a new U.S. law (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act) that would hit India’s big-ticket hardware purchases and energy deals from Russia, and Mr. Modi would have wanted to reassure Mr. Putin that India will not bow to such pressure. Second, Russia’s recent military exercises and helicopter sales to Pakistan as well as its outreach to the Afghan Taliban have been viewed with deep concern by India, which has sought to extract assurances that this would not in any way hurt its national security interests. Third, the new push to strengthen ties is driven by the global instability that the Donald Trump administration has set off. India appears to have decided it can no longer depend on consistency in the U.S.’s foreign policy.

As a result, the recalibration of Mr. Modi’s foreign policy from its perceived Western tilt to a more even-handed approach of aligning with all in India’s interests is welcome. Informal summits of the kind in Sochi and Wuhan are also useful to break the ice and reset relations when needed. But a comprehensive shift in foreign policy must be accompanied by greater transparency. If India is contemplating a turnaround from its earlier postures with world powers, it needs to explain the change of course. The secrecy surrounding Mr. Modi’s dashes to Wuhan and Sochi is intriguing since he is already scheduled to meet both Mr. Xi and Mr. Putin at least twice in the next two months, at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in Qingdao and the BRICS summit in Johannesburg. Even more curious are the official outcomes of the informal summits that India and China will cooperate in Afghanistan, while India and Russia will coordinate on the Indo-Pacific. Both have hitherto only been referenced in India’s ties with the U.S. and its allies, Europe, Japan and Australia. Without clarity, at a time of global flux India may appear to be attempting to travel in two boats at once.



1) Breaching

Meaning: Break or fail to observe (a law, agreement, or code of conduct).

Example: “These outside bodies are bootlegging albums and breaching copyright”

Synonyms: Break, Contravene

2) Surveillance

Meaning: Close observation, especially of a suspected spy or criminal.

Example: “He found himself put under surveillance by British military intelligence”

Synonyms: Observation, Scrutiny

3) Cripples

Meaning: Cause a severe and almost insuperable problem for.

Example: “Developing countries are crippled by their debts”

Synonyms: Ruin, Destroy

Antonyms: Boost

4) Requisition

Meaning: Demand the use or supply of (something) by official order.

Example: “The government had assumed powers to requisition cereal products at fixed prices”

synonyms: Commandeer, Appropriate

5) Artefacts

Meaning: Something observed in a scientific investigation or experiment that is not naturally present but occurs as a result of the preparative or investigative procedure.

Example: “The curvature of the surface is an artefact of the wide-angle view”

6) Panoply

Meaning: An extensive or impressive collection.

Example: “A deliciously inventive panoply of insults”

synonyms: Array, Range

7) Dismal

Meaning: Causing a mood of gloom or depression.

Example:  “The dismal weather made the late afternoon seem like evening”

Synonyms: Dingy, Dim

8) Concern

Meaning: Have a specific connection with or responsibility for.

Example: “Those concerned in industry, academia, and government”

Synonyms: Involve oneself in

9) Interception

Meaning: Action taken to prevent someone or something from continuing to a destination.

Example: “The interception of arms shipments”

10) Repercussions

Meaning: An unintended consequence of an event or action, especially an unwelcome one.

Example: “The move would have grave repercussions for the entire region”

Synonyms: Consequences, Result  

11) Acquittal

Meaning: A judgement or verdict that a person is not guilty of the crime with which they have been charged.

Example: “The trial resulted in an acquittal”

Synonyms: Absolution, Clearing

Antonyms: Conviction

12) Erring

Meaning: Be mistaken or incorrect; make a mistake.

Example: “The judge had erred in ruling that the evidence was inadmissible”

Synonyms: Mistake, Miscalculate

Antonyms: Innocent, Well behaved

13) Pivot

Meaning: A person or thing that plays a central part in a situation or enterprise.

Example: “The pivot of community life was the chapel”

Synonyms: Centre, Focus  

14) Template

Meaning: Something that serves as a model for others to copy.

Example: “The plant was to serve as the template for change throughout the company”

15) Parroting

Meaning: Repeat mechanically.

Example: “Encouraging students to parrot back information”

Synonyms: Repeat, Echo

16) Bureaucratic

Meaning: Relating to a system of government in which most of the important decisions are taken by state officials rather than by elected representatives.

Example: “Well-established bureaucratic procedures”

Synonyms: Administrative, Official

Antonyms: Simple, Relaxed

17) Erodes

Meaning: Gradually destroy or be gradually destroyed.

Example: “This humiliation has eroded what confidence Jean has”

Synonyms: Abrade, Crumble

18) Springboard

Meaning: A thing that lends impetus or assistance to a particular action, enterprise, or development.

Example: “An economic plan that may be the springboard for recovery”

19) Theology

Meaning: The study of the nature of God and religious belief.

Example: “A theology degree”

20) Hasten

Meaning: Move or travel hurriedly.

Example: “We hastened back to Paris”

Synonyms: Hurry, Dash

Antonyms: Dawdle, Crawl

21) Peril

Meaning: Serious and immediate danger.

Example: “You could well place us both in peril”

Synonyms: Danger, Risk

Antonyms: Safety, Security

22) Tremendous

Meaning: Very great in amount, scale, or intensity.

Example: “Penny put in a tremendous amount of time”

Synonyms: Huge, Enormous

Antonyms: Tiny, Small

23) Riddled

Meaning: Full of something unwanted.

Example: An old sweater riddled with holes.  

24) Sieves

Meaning: Examine in detail.

Example: “Lawyers had sieved through her contract”

25) Foresight

Meaning: The ability to predict what will happen or be needed in the future.

Example: “He had the foresight to check that his escape route was clear”

26) Stifle

Meaning: Prevent or constrain (an activity or idea).

Example: “High taxes were stifling private enterprise”

Synonyms: Constrain, Hinder

27) Embattled

Meaning: (Of a person) beset by problems or difficulties.

Example: “The worst may not be over for the embattled Chancellor”

28) Denying

Meaning: State that one refuses to admit the truth or existence of.

Example: “Both firms deny any responsibility for the tragedy”

Synonyms: Contradict, Repudiate

Antonyms: Confirm

29) End up

Meaning: To finally be in a particular place or situation.

Example: They’re travelling across Europe by train and are planning to end up in Moscow.  

30) Humility

Meaning: The quality of having a modest or low view of one’s importance.

Example: “He needs the humility to accept that their way may be better”

Synonyms: Modesty, Meekness

Antonyms: Pride

31) Frayed

Meaning: (Of a person’s nerves or temper) showing the effects of strain.

Example: “An effort to soothe frayed nerves”

32) Premised

Meaning: Base an argument, theory, or undertaking on.

example: “The reforms were premised on our findings”

33) Jeopardised

Meaning: Put (someone or something) into a situation in which there is a danger of loss, harm, or failure.

Example: “A devaluation of the dollar would jeopardize New York’s position as a financial centre”

Synonyms: Threaten, Endanger  

Antonyms: Safeguard

34) Reassure

Meaning: Say or do something to remove the doubts and fears of (someone).

Example: “He understood her feelings and tried to reassure her”

Synonyms: Comfort, Soothe

Antonyms: Alarm, Unnerve

36) Assurances

Meaning: A positive declaration intended to give confidence; a promise.

Example: “He gave an assurance that work would begin on Monday”

Synonyms: Promise, Pledge  

37) Recalibration

Meaning: To change the way you do or think about something.

Example: “You need to recalibrate your expectations”

38) Contemplating

Meaning: Think deeply and at length.

Example: “He sat morosely contemplating”

39) Intriguing

Meaning: Make secret plans to do something illicit or detrimental to someone.

Example: “Henry and Louis intrigued with the local nobles”

Synonyms: Plot, Conspire

40) Hitherto

Meaning: Until now or until the point in time under discussion.

Example: “Hitherto part of French West Africa, Benin achieved independence in 1960”

Synonyms: Previously, Formerly

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