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With India’s Prism ‘Central Monitoring System’, Online Privacy Is A Myth

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Online privacy is a myth. If you are not aware then get used to it is what the Indian government wants to say indirectly. According to a story published at The Next Web, Indian government’s surveillance system will monitor all your activities that you have made on the web or on mobile. Going further the Indian government will monitor your posts on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, as well as track search queries submitted to Google by “selected targets”. In other words, every action by you is going to be monitored on the grounds of national interest.

With India’s Prism ‘Central Monitoring System’, Online Privacy Is A Myth image internet censorship in india2

The story that was initially reported by Reuters also happens to share the thoughts of a senior telecommunications minister who justified the move and is directly involved in setting up the project,

“Security of the country is very important. All countries have these surveillance programs. You can see terrorists getting caught, you see crimes being stopped. You need surveillance. This is to protect you and your country.”

However, it was interesting to note that Interior ministry spokesman K. S. Dhatwalia refused to have any knowledge on any such monitoring system in place or any that will be out there in the future.

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The evolution of CMS

In India, the Congress led UPA government had introduced the CMS in the parliament in 2012 and it started functioning in 2013. However, there were talks about such a system from late 2009 onwards to bolster the security of the country.

The system was laid to enable the government to monitor all phone and internet communications in the country. It will provide state bodies like the National Investigation Agency, centralized access to the country’s telecom network and facilitate direct monitoring of phone calls, text messages, and internet use, by removing the procedure of getting access from private telecom operators.

In fact it was recently revealed that in addition to tracking the call details the Government is also working on tracking exact location details of people during their call.

The blanket monitoring of people on their location details finds its genesis in a DoT order issued in May 2011. However, its effect on the ground should be visible from mid- 2014. Besides this, the directive issued by DoT states that during the first year telecom operators should achieve 80 percent accuracy but later during the second year it should improve to 95 percent. Interestingly, there has been no mention of rural areas.

It is also being said that initially these details will only be provided for specific mobile devices but later on the entire thing would be a part of the CDR (call data record) for all mobile calls in a time frame of three years. Eventually all these data would form a part of the CMS.

What is the Government’s take on CMS?

The Indian Government is justifying the move, in the name of national concern. In a recent Google Plus Hangout, Minister of State, Communications & IT and Shipping Milind Deora had justified the move and elaborated that the CMS in fact will help in saving privacy from telecom companies.

Milind further added that with the help of CMS, the long process of approval is reduced and also checks have been placed so that even the officer who is monitoring the CMS has no access to the data. A feature that was not possible to implement in the traditional system making the CMS much more reliable and safeguarding individual privacy.

But the other side of the story is that with CMS in place, security agencies will no longer need to seek a court order for surveillance. Indeed the power comes into the hands of officials but what happens when it starts getting misused for opportunistic means. We have seen in 2012 and also in 2013 how the controversial IT Act 66-A was misused and people were put behind bars for their Facebook activities.

What comes as a surprise is that the approval of a CMS system was given by the Indian Parliament without having a national debate? Thankfully the same concern has been raised by an International NGO Human Rights Watch. Criticizing the Indian Government move on CMS Cynthia Wong, senior Internet researcher added that,

“The Indian government’s centralized monitoring is chilling, given its reckless and irresponsible use of the sedition and Internet laws. New surveillance capabilities have been used around the world to target critics, journalists, and human rights activists.”

Does the common man have a choice?

Frankly, the common man is left with no choice and to add to his woes the country has no privacy law in place. Though Milind assured in his Hangout that citizens have every right to make fun of their politicians but cases in the past go against the minster’s thought.

In US after the Prism story was revealed by the Guardian, Internet companies have now decided to share the number of data requests made by the US Government. But this won’t be possible in India since these companies do not have local servers in the country and with CMS the government has removed all kinds of barriers.

The 400 crore CMS system will surely help the government to safeguard the country’s interest. But, who will monitor the people inside the government that are creating scam after scam? Online privacy is a myth indeed!

Image courtesy: thehackernews.com

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