After creating a Central Monitoring System, the Indian Government wants to keep a track of all mobile users in the country. According to Firspost, Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has raised a directive which states that all telecom service providers in the country should make location details, a mandatory part of call data records (CDR) for all mobile users in the country, starting mid 2014. The new directive has been titled as ‘Amendments to the unified access service license agreement for security related concerns for expansion of telecom services in various zones of the country’.
With the new directive coming into place, the CDR details will reflect details of where you were when you made a call. These latest details will accompany the existing details such as the contact number of the person you spoke to, duration of the call and details of the mobile tower you used during the 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 for all mobile calls in a time frame of three years.
Online privacy - a myth
It’s no more a hidden truth that governments monitor their citizens in the name of national interest. We have seen this happening in US which surfaced after the Guardian making revelations about the National Security Agency having obtained direct access to the systems of Google, Facebook, Apple and other US internet giants since many years. 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.
In India, the Congress led UPA government 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, 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.
CMS was approved by the parliament without any public debate. Post Prism, CMS was also criticized by an international NGO ‘Human Rights Watch’ which has stated 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.”
A similar concern was raised by Nikhil Pahwa, Founder of Medianama at the recent Google Hangout with Milind Deora, Minister of State, Communications & IT and Shipping. However, the concerns were justified by Milind who even went on to state that the CMS has been misconstrued.
In today’s world, let us accept that privacy on the Internet is a myth. The way forward is to disclose the number of requests that the Government makes like Facebook and Yahoo have chosen to do. But in a country like India where there is no privacy law, it becomes tricky as the Internet giants don’t have their servers in the country, and since last year the GOI has been quite frustrated in getting details from these companies. So we now have a monster called CMS that is not only monitoring what you are browsing and downloading on the Internet but will soon monitor your call location too.
So we wouldn’t know what our government is snooping on in the name of national interest, unless we have an Indian Edward Snowden to reveal the truth behind CMS.
Image Courtesy: Livemint