Right now the world’s most developed and liberal economy, the US is facing the wrath of free speech supporters. Last week we saw Guardian breaking possibly 2013’s biggest news that The National Security Agency has obtained direct access to the systems of Google, Facebook, Apple and other US internet giants. It was also reported that the NSA access is part of a previously undisclosed program called Prism, which allows officials to collect material including search history, the content of emails, file transfers and live chats.
While this move was being criticized, Internet giants were making their position clear before the world. International NGO, Human Rights Watch has criticized the Indian Government’s Centralized Monitoring System (CMS).
“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,” revealed Cynthia Wong, senior Internet researcher, while the US is digesting the ongoing news related to NSA and PRISM.
The UPA government led by the Congress had introduced the CMS in the parliament in 2012 and it started functioning in 2013. 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, centralised 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.
However, it is being said that the government has released very little information about what agencies will have access to the system, who may authorize surveillance, and what legal standards must be met to intercept various kinds of data or communications. A similar concern was expressed by Nikhil Pahwa, Founder at Medianama in the recent Google+ Hangout with socially savvy Minister of State, Communications & IT and Shipping, Milind Deora.
Nikhil Pahwa, a guest at the Hangout was clearly not happy with Milind’s intial statement that the IT Act 66-A was a good one and needed no change. While sharing his disappointment, he had asked why the government has not made amendment to the law after having made promises and at the same time why is the government tracking locations and monitoring conversations of people on social media. Isn’t that scary and breach of individual security as well as curbing freedom of speech?
Milind started by saying that no law is perfect and that the 66-A has been a law that has been created after a lot of deliberations and consulting with industry, stake holders, a department standing company and eventually the Parliament. The law that was created in 2009 was misused recently and when the government saw the misuse it issued an advisory to all states. Additionally, Milind took the opportunity to clear the misconception on the idea of building a CMS system. He shared that the idea is not to invade individual privacy but to safeguard it along with the national interest.
Milind might have put across his party’s point very smartly but it has not satisfied Nikhil who has shared a detailed post on why the IT Minister is wrong to believe that the CMS is a good tool. Besides, Human Rights Watch has also stated that – “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.”
Well, with the CMS no lesser than the Prism, it would be interesting to see how the free speech loving Indian citizens respond to the hush moves by the government. In a country where the IT Act 66-A has been grossly misused by people in power and with no privacy law in place, I have serious doubts that the CMS won’t be misused with the elections around in 2014.
Image courtesy: digitaltrends.com