July 1, 2013 by thejalebichronicles
Malice in Wonderland: Scorn for mainstream information that will shatter the image of Wonderland that we all have of the world.
While the country is buzzing with news of Manmohan starting his fourth old age home (re: cabinet) for senile ministers; the Centre is hell-bent on meddling with the simple lives of the very tech-savvy people it was once supposed to be responsible to. Its new stunt to go Bond and spy on users is not only dangerous but very stupid. The Indian Central Monitoring System, (ICMS), India’s very own version of America’s PRISM (yes, we excel at copying) made an appearance in Ministerial Houses as early as 2011; but was implemented with no public debate on the first of the month-before-last.
What was surprising was India’s silence about the controversial confession of Edward Snowden about the USA’s activities and the fact that she said nothing against the superpower recording 6.3 billion pieces of computer data per year for the last 7 years. Instead, we launched our very own version of the programme. The four hundred crore project, (almost two-thirds of the money allotted to the 2013 budget for education; hear hear!) prepared by the Telecom Enforcement, Resource and Monitoring (TREM) and by the Centre for Development of Telematics (C-DoT); manned by the Intelligence Bureau that will allow the government to listen to and tape phone conversations, read e-mails and text messages, monitor posts on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn and provide its data to agencies such as Telephone Call Interception System (TCIS), the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW), the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and many other government bodies, seems to be an exorbitant commitment to make toward the promotion of National Security.
Especially since Indian authorities are unable to employ responsible workmen to monitor its surveillance cameras. Therefore, how do they plan to comb through such a huge amount of data and intercept seditious emails/texts – among the 900 million landline and mobile phone subscribers and 120 million Internet users? Food for thought: Is the ICMS a waste of public money?
Minister for Information Technology, Milind Deora claims that, “The new data collection system would actually improve citizens’ privacy (buy a dictionary, love) because telecom companies would no longer be directly involved in the surveillance – only government officials would.” This should, therefore, make me very happy because I trust my government to the very end of the world because it has sincere, responsible people who have hardly ever been involved in scams…….what?
In the last month the Government has been very sincere and has done ample work. It has, according to Google’s Transparency Report for July-December 2012, requested the removal of a staggering amount of content from the cyber site. What tickles the funny bone is that while 33% of these requests were about defamation, 13% about religious libel and a whopping 11% was hate speech; only a meagre 1% had anything to with national security. Insecure, much?
Well, perhaps they have cause to be. Arrest of a university professor from West Bengal for circulating an email with pictures poking fun at chief minister Mamata Banerjee, and that of the innocent duo who dared to raise their brave eyebrows at the revered trouble maker Bal Thackeray’s rather inconvenient death has done marvels for our understanding in the ruling body and their reliable use of the Information Technology Amendment Act of 2008.
Naturally, vulnerable citizens fight for the last vestiges of their drowning voices in their insistence for the passing of a Privacy Law that will enable them to take the Government to court in cases of unfair accusations and extreme interception. Not to mention cases of obsessive stalking, intrusion in the lives of Public Persons and leaking of their private information (for a satisfactory sum of course) and framing of innocents due to malicious intent.
The ICMS is a huge amount of power to be handed over to the Government and it is frightening how this absolute autonomy can easily be misused by a crowd of senior citizens.
“Who can authorise the interception of telecommunications and internet communications? Who can authorize access to intercepted data? Can data monitored by the CMS be shared between third parties and if so, under what conditions?” These are some of the million questions racing through our minds at present.
Eventually if the ideology bridge is crossed and some trust develops between the saas and the bahu, we shall still have the problem of actually intercepting and storing recorded data. While most municipal offices struggle with Microsoft 2004 this project would require something finer, and thus would cause the Government to allot several sacks of green in its direction. Question is will we ever see the result? Besides is our country – fraught with imbalanced distribution of wealth, illiteracy, over-population and food-crisis – ready to invest this much in security? The project is based on the assumption that terrorists write e-mails that go like this: “On the 23rd of May we shall plant a bomb in the square because we are fed up with the new income tax laws . . .” We hate to burst your bubble, but these terrorists are one step ahead of you, both in ammunition and surveillance!
In addition to tracking call details, the Government is also working on tracking exact location details of people while they make their calls! [Don’t be surprised then, if you’re chatting with your girlfriend about Assassin’s Creed when the FBI shows up to handcuff you on account of ‘Violence and harmful intent to citizens’.] Truly, such an idea of constant video surveillance was proposed in Person of Interest; but the Government in the sitcom turned it down claiming it was irrational, unlike the scenario back home. What does that make our Government?
In recent news, during the meeting between communication ministry officials for reviewing the execution of the National Telecom Policy, it was decided that the ICMS would be commissioned only by December because of lack of requisite infrastructure.
Of course there is the voyeuristic pleasure of reading kinky e-mails, but if the project does not add to national security then what is its use? Besides, is such a large investment worth our individuality? This is for the government to decide. As for you – agitate. Do not let them take away our freedom!
– Shayonnita Mallik