Last month, India's government deployed what is known as the "Central Monitoring System". The several-million dollar surveillance initiative gives Indian government agencies unprecedented power to silently monitor communications, not the least of which include Internet activity, text messaging and phone calls. India Times has the full story.
India's CMS is believed to be the product of anti-terrorism measures following a series of 2008 bombings in Mumbai. Since the attacks, parliamentary officials have amended existing laws, empowering certain agencies with the legal authority to eavesdrop on otherwise private Internet and phone communications.
India's surveillance efforts won't be limited to just potential terrorist activity though or even to law enforcement agencies. India's tax agency, for example, is expected to have access to data monitored and collected by the system.
Not many details are known about the system, but the seemingly Orwellian eavesdropping effort has been under development for about two years. Last year, India's Minster of Technology told parliament that the country's CMS would, "lawfully intercept internet and telephone services".
Pranesh Prakash, the director of policy at the Centre for Internet and Society, condemned a central monitoring system. "In the absence of a strong privacy law that promotes transparency about surveillance and thus allows us to judge the utility of the surveillance, this kind of development is very worrisome". He continued, "This has been done with neither public nor parliamentary dialogue, making the government unaccountable to its citizens."
As with most surveillance systems, end-to-end encryption methods are expected to still shield users from prying eyes. However, India's Information Technology Act does give certain Indian officials the authority to decrypt encrypted communications. When compelled by law, the ITA prescribes an up-to seven year penalty for anyone who refuses to reveal the contents of that protected data.
Even so, encrypted services based outside India's borders like Facebook and Google should prove largely immune to government surveillance techniques. However, overseas companies can still choose to cooperate with India, possibly in response to a court order or other requests.
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