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Govt. violates privacy safeguards to secretly monitor Internet traffic

Shalini Singh
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Keyword-based monitoring can snoop in on emails, web-browsing, chat

Amidst fresh controversy following reports of the U.S.’s Prism program targeting the Brazilian President, and the impending launch of the Indian government’s own Central Monitoring System (CMS) project, an investigation by The Hindu reveals that the Internet activities of India’s roughly 160 million users are already being subjected to wide-ranging surveillance and monitoring, much of which is in violation of the government’s own rules and notifications for ensuring “privacy of communications”.

While the CMS is in early stages of launch, investigation shows that there already exists — without much public knowledge — Lawful Intercept and Monitoring (LIM) systems, which have been deployed by the Centre for Development of Telematics (C-DoT) for monitoring Internet traffic, emails, web-browsing, Skype and any other Internet activity of Indian users.

Secret monitoring

While mobile operators deploy their own LIM system, allowing “interception” of calls by the government, only after checking “due authorization” in compliance with Section 5(2) of the Indian Telegraph Act read with Rule 419(A) of the IT Rules, in the case of the Internet traffic, the LIM is deployed by the government at the international gateways of a handful of large ISPs.

The functioning of these secretive surveillance systems is out of reach of these ISPs, under lock and key and complete control of the government.

Following the leak of the Amar Singh tapes, the government had notified safeguards on February 7, 2006 for monitoring Internet traffic titled “Instructions for ensuring privacy of communications”, which mandates all ISPs to have “designated nodal officers” for communicating and receiving the “intimations for interceptions”.

Nodal officers are required to hold meetings with the government to “seek confirmation regarding their (interception orders) authenticity every 15 days”. The safeguards include the need for 24x7 availability of “nodal officers”, and a procedure for monitoring traffic during “exceptions in emergent cases”.

However, in reality, these safeguards stand violated for the most part.

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