India’s surveillance programme
Even as the world is outraging over Internet surveillance and data gathering activities undertaken by the NSA in the US, our very own Indian government seems to have set up its own surveillance programme.
According to a report by Reuters, multiple unnamed sources have mentioned that this surveillance system will give security agencies and tax officials the ability to tap into emails and phone calls of citizens. These agencies will be able to go about keeping tabs without oversight by courts or the parliament.
The Centralised Monitoring System, announced in 2011, has begun to roll out since April this year. It is a central system through which the country’s telecom and Internet lines are connected. The system is capable of intercepting calls, monitoring and analysing data of social networking patterns of targets. Eventually, the system will be able to monitor any of India’s 900 million landline and mobile phone subscribers and 120 million Internet users.
No need for court orders
Along with the ability to listen in on phone calls, read emails and text messages, the government will be able to monitor posts on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Search queries typed into Google by “select targets” will also be watched. “Security of the country is very important. All countries have these surveillance programs,” a senior Telecommunications Ministry official said. “If at all the government reads your e-mails, or taps your phone, that will be done for a good reason. It is not invading your privacy, it is protecting you and your country,” he said.
According to previous reports, the Indian government has apparently spent about Rs 400 crores on building up this system that has been a cause of anger for Internet rights activists. “The Indian government’s centralized monitoring is chilling, given its reckless and irresponsible use of the sedition and Internet laws,” said Cynthia Wong, senior Internet researcher at Human Rights Watch. “New surveillance capabilities have been used around the world to target critics, journalists, and human rights activists.”
What’s most worrisome about the system is that it bypasses the need for court orders for demanding data from Internet or telephone service providers. “The many abuses of phone tapping make clear that that is not a good way to organize the system of checks and balances,” Anja Kovacs, a Fellow at the New Delhi-based Centre for Internet and Society, said. “When similar rules are used for even more extensive monitoring and surveillance, as seems to be the case with CMS, the dangers of abuse and their implications for individuals are even bigger.”
The government official who spoke to Reuters, though, refuted arguments that the system could be abused. “The home secretary has to have some substantial intelligence input to approve any kind of call tapping or call monitoring. He is not going to randomly decide to tape anybody’s phone calls,” he said.
The system will be operating under the age-old Indian Telegraph Act of 1885, a law introduced by the British. According to it, the government was allowed to monitor private conversation. The British are long gone and India has been independent for nearly 66 years now, but this law system still finds itself falling under this act. Telecom companies are helpless in this situation, too. “We are obligated by law to give access to our networks to every legal enforcement agency,” said Rajan Mathews, Director General of the Cellular Operators Association of India.
Milind Deora, Minister of State for Information Technology gave a different perspective to this battle in his Google Hangout session. “The mobile company will have no knowledge about whose phone conversation is being intercepted,” he said.[source:tech2]