Jun 9 : Indian government’s attempt to monitor telecommunication network

June 9, 2013


India next after PRISM: govt can soon legally read your mail
by Jay Mazoomdaar

Do you browse civil rights sites? Often enter Niyamgiri or Kudankulam as search words? Call, text or mail friends reminding them about that weekly visit to the local slum to distribute medicines or teach kids? Or blog and tweet angrily about the live skeletons you encountered during a jungle holiday in a tribal belt? You better watch out.

Yesterday, The Guardian exposed how British agencies used the top-secret American eavesdropping program ‘PRISM’ — that carries out extensive, in-depth surveillance on live communications and stored information of virtually anyone anywhere in the world — to spy on its citizens. While the outrage in the UK already has the David Cameron government on the back foot and there is anxiousness among Indian netizens, few at home notice that India itself is not far behind on this dangerous global trend.

This April, our government started putting in place its Central Monitoring System to get access to everything in the country’s telecommunication network, ranging from your emails, social media exchanges, web browsing history, chats to phone calls and text messages. Forget public debates, not even Parliament had an opportunity to debate the move.

Nobody, however, can complain about this mega anti-privacy mechanism which is perfectly legal on paper. Then information technology minister Milind Deora told Parliament last December that the Rs 400 crore monitoring system would “lawfully intercept internet and telephone services”.

Indeed, India’s Information Technology Act 2000 has been amended twice in 2008 and 2011 and allows government officials to access personal emails, phone calls or text messages as part of reasonable security practices and procedures. The ‘reasonability’ remains conveniently undefined and depends on official discretion.

So what exactly does the government want to listen in on? Why do the human rights groups deny it the benefit of doubt in this age of terror? Anyway, why should you worry if you do not have something criminal to hide? Well, you could be jailed for life for, if nothing else, “exciting disaffection” — which includes “disloyalty and all feelings of enmity” — towards the government.

Section 124A of the IPC has remained unchanged since 1870 when the British framed the all-encompassing Sedition Act. It says “whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the Government established by law in India shall be punished with imprisonment for life, to which fine may be added, or with imprisonment which may extend to three years to which fine may be added”.

Prominent freedom fighters including Mohandas Gandhi and Bal Gangadhar Tilak were booked under Section 124A during the raj. In the recent years, sedition charges have been slapped on paediatrician Dr Binayak Sen (for trying to improve public health standards in the state-forsaken hinterlands), writer Arundhati Roy (for repeating Jawaharlal Nehru’s view that accession of a disputed territory cannot be against the wishes of the people) and young Aseem Trivedi (for drawing an aesthetically-challenged and inconsequential cartoon).

The latest in the government’s arsenal is the all-season-any-reason invocation of the Maoist spectre. The first widely publicised case was that of Kamlesh Painkra in Chhattishgarh. A grassroots reporter, Painkra was the first journalist to report the gross human rights violations of the state militia called Salwa Judum in 2005. He was promptly dubbed a Maoist. His brother, a teacher, was arrested on charges of sheltering Naxalites and Painkra’s PDS licence, the family’s main source of income, was cancelled. Fearing death in a staged encounter, he left Chhattisgarh and the CRPF demolished his house in Bijapur to build a volleyball court for its jawans.

In 2009, Laxman Choudhury, a stringer with a vernacular newspaper in Odisha’s Gajapati district, was charged with having links to Maoists for writing on the police-drug mafia connection. He was booked under Sections 120 (B) and 124(A) — criminal conspiracy and sedition — for apparently receiving eight Maoist leaflets sent through a bus conductor and made to spend 10 weeks in jail before the high court granted him bail.

In March 2010, Gujarat police arrested Niranjan Mahapatra, a freelance journalist, for his alleged involvement with the Maoists. Gujarat police said they recovered plenty of Maoist literature written in Oriya from his rented accommodation, that Mahapatra was associated with a workers union, used to visit demolition sites in slums and networked with the affected, and that his source of income could not be immediately ascertained. And yes, his neighbours apparently told the cops that his house often remained locked for 15-20 days. Did you ever imagine that any of this could make a journalist a Maoist?

Then again, journalists have not been the only targets. In April 2010, Sunil Mandiwal, an assistant professor of Delhi University, was detained twice by the police for suspected links with Maoists. As usual, the cops claimed they recovered “Left-leaning” literature and books from Mandiwal’s home, which, for them, was evidence enough.

In June 2010, scientist Nisha Biswas, college professor Kaniska Chowdhury and writer Manik Mondal were arrested for visiting West Bengal’s Lalgarh area where they were surveying the severity of state-sponsored atrocities carried out by the central-state joint forces. Their crime included participation in street corner meetings organized by various human rights and resistance groups including the People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCAPA).

In July, Debalina Chakraborty, a student of Jadavpur University, went on an indefinite fast after the state CID dubbed her a Maoist leader. Chakraborty, secretary of a women’s organisation working in tribal areas of Nandigram and Lalgarh, was booked under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) by the cops after they recovered a letter from a Maoist courier written by one “Debu”.

Such instances are too many but for want of space, let’s jump to more recent ones. In December 2012, Kerala police arrested Gopal, a former scientist of the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research, Kalpakkam, and six others and booked them under the UAPA as Maoists. While Gopal was a vocal member of the Committee for the Protection of Civil Liberties (PUCL) in Tamil Nadu, others were active student union members and took part in various protest movements such as the anti-Kudankulam agitation.

Only last week, Anam Vivekananda Reddy, MLA from Nellore rural, dubbed Telangana Joint Action Committee chairman professor M Kodandaram a “terrorist” who was “preaching terrorism to students instead of giving lessons”. The professor, Reddy told the media, was working to strengthen the Maoists and deserved exemplary punishment including termination of his job at Osmania University.

Not all of us join rallies against injustice — social, environmental, political or economic — or visit slums and villages to help out the victims of a lopsided system. But most of us have a thing or two to say about the affairs of the state and those occupying our public offices. Not all of them use sanitised language in personal communications. Now that the biggest of brothers have built the capacity to snoop on every spoken and written word, even the most casual and inconsequential comments can be used against you.

Going by the instances cited above, and the sarkari sleuth’s ingenious ability to make a travesty of truth and common sense, most of us may soon qualify to be a Maoist, a sympathizer or, at any rate, merit a sedition complaint. It will all depend on if and when the authorities have scores to settle or need a few scapegoats.



HRW warns against India telecoms monitoring

A new system to monitor all phone and internet connections in India threatens privacy and free expression, warns the campaign group Human Rights Watch.

It says India’s privacy laws are not strong enough to protect people from such potentially invasive powers.

In April, India rolled out the Central Monitoring System (CMS) which gives the government sweeping access to the country’s telecommunications network.

Authorities say they will not break any laws while intercepting information.

In December 2012, the then information technology minister Milind Deora told the parliament that the monitoring system will “lawfully intercept internet and telephone services”.

“The Indian government’s centralised monitoring is chilling, given its reckless and irresponsible use of the sedition and internet laws,” senior internet researcher at HRW Cynthia Wong said in a statement.

“New surveillance capabilities have been used around the world to target critics, journalists, and human rights activists,” the statement added.

Indian privacy and internet freedom campaigners have already criticised the CMS and expressed fears that the government could end up snooping on people.

In recent months, the authorities have been criticised for arresting people for comments on social networking and other internet sites.

In November last year, a woman was arrested for her comment following the death of politician Bal Thackeray. Her friend who “liked” the comment, was also arrested. The two were later released on bail.

In October, Ravi Srinivasan, a 46-year-old businessman in Pondicherry, was arrested for a tweet criticising Karti Chidambaram, son of Indian Finance Minister P Chidambaram. He too was later released on bail.

Earlier in April, the West Bengal government arrested Professor Ambikesh Mahapatra, a teacher who had emailed to friends a cartoon that was critical of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. He was later released on bail.
Their arrests led to an outrage in India with critics accusing the government of “abuse of authority”.



Indian govt’s phone, internet monitoring system is chilling, says Human Rights Watch

India should enact clear laws to ensure increased phone and Internet suveillance does not undermine privacy and free expression, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Friday.

“The Indian government’s centralised monitoring is chilling, given its reckless and irresponsible use of the sedition and Internet laws,” said Cynthia Wong, senior Internet researcher of the rights body.
Internet giants deny granting US government direct access to servers

“New surveillance capabilities have been used around the world to target critics, journalists, and human rights activists.”

In April, the government began rolling out a Central Monitoring System (CMS) to monitor all phone and Internet communications in the country, HRW said in a statement from New York.

It said the CMS will provide centralised access to the country’s telecom network and facilitate direct monitoring of phone calls, text messages and Internet use by government agencies, bypassing service providers.

“Surveillance tools are often used by governments and bureaucrats for political reasons instead of security purposes, and often in a covert way that violates human rights,” Wong said. “If India doesn’t want to look like an authoritarian regime, it needs to be transparent about who will be authorised to collect data, what data will be collected, how it will be used, and how the right to privacy will be protected.”

Read more at: http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/indian-government-phone-internet-monitoring-system-chilling-human-rights-watch/1/279014.html