India has once again raised the issue of the intelligence apparatus of the United States trawling electronic communications, mainly e-mails, based on the apprehension that this exercise has been more intrusive than what Washington has claimed.
External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid has nuanced his observation on the U.S. intelligence snooping on Indian e-mail traffic. Once, in the presence of Secretary of State John Kerry, he said it was aimed at looking at broad transmission patterns.
“To get access to content of communications is one thing, and being able to study by way of computer software patterns of communications is two different things. ...Now the issues of privacy and the issues of reciprocity are issues that we will all keep in mind, and these are matters that engage our attention on both sides,” he said on that occasion in June.
Privately though he discussed the snooping issue with Mr. Kerry during one-to-one talks. But that was before details began emerging about the U.S. snooping on inside offices of heads of government and high officials of friendly countries.
But with many countries coming to the conclusion that their presidential offices were also bugged by the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA), India has once again recorded its opposition to the U.S. snooping.
In the latest instance about a week ago, India expressed its views to the Deputy Chief of Mission of the U.S. Embassy. India was understood to have said this kind of spying was not acceptable, said informed sources in the Ministry of External Affairs.
The message to the U.S. diplomat was conveyed around the time NSA chief Gen. Keith Brian Alexander visited India.
India has pointed out that the monitoring of online traffic by their security agencies was not restricted to data collection purposes.
As compared to its contemporaries on the world stage in terms of size and influence, such as Indonesia, Germany and Brazil, India has been relatively low-key in public about its resentment and opposition to the scale of U.S. snooping.
New Delhi first raised the issue when National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon met U.S. Ambassador Nancy Powell soon after whistleblower Edward Snowden’s revelations were made public. Next, Mr. Khurshid mentioned it during his meeting with Mr. Kerry in June.
In fact, it was at Brazil’s insistence that India expressed its views in strongest terms following the India-Brazil-South Africa (IBSA) grouping’s last meeting in New York this September.
IBSA had expressed its concern at the “unauthorised practices of illegal interception of interception of communications and data from citizens, businesses and members of governments by foreign governments and businesses.”
IBSA had also underlined that this constituted a “serious violation” of national sovereignty and individual rights, and was “incompatible with the democratic coexistence between friendly countries.” They also reaffirmed their willingness to discuss these issues openly and cooperate in relevant multilateral fora to secure the development of appropriate international governance on cyber security.
India is engaged in studying the available options on ensuring greater privacy on the Net. One way would be to study the theoretical work done on the subject so far and approach the United Nations.