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Big brother is watching

NIKHIL VARMA
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Issue The Prism controversy has people bristling about invasion of privacy; some of who have no problems broadcasting minutiae of their lives on social media platforms

People powerMany netizens across the planet have supported Snowden
People powerMany netizens across the planet have supported Snowden

It reads like a script from a science fiction movie, an Orwellian tale of the government agencies snooping on private individuals and organisations. Edward Snowden, an ex-CIA operative, made public secret intelligence documents that revealed that social media platforms such as Facebook, Google, twitter were under American government surveillance under the project name, Prism.

In an interview to the Guardian , Edward talked about the shadowy American agency; the NSA that is involved in tapping electronic communication. He told the Guardian , “The N.S.A. has built an infrastructure that allows it to intercept almost everything. With this capability, the vast majority of human communications are automatically ingested without targeting. If I wanted to see your e-mails or your wife’s phone, all I have to do is use intercepts. I can get your e-mails, passwords, phone records, credit cards. I do not want to live in a society that does these sort of things… I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded. That is not something I am willing to support or live under.”

The American intelligence agencies have claimed that such checks are required to prevent terror attacks. The revelations have created a storm online. Will the big brother snooping on the Internet end the claim that the net is one of the free forums of speech an expression? Is staying online and posting constant updates an open invitation for agencies to keep track of your activities? However, constant status updates and privacy do not really go hand in hand.

Madhav Kumar, a computer student, while being against government snoops pouring over updates on social media sites, says: “People use social media sites to put up updates about every single event in their lives, including personal phone numbers and pictures, location tags etc. You need to take care of your privacy first, before condemning any government move of snooping on the net.”

Gaurav Sood is a round-the-clock social media enthusiast and IT consultant by day is against any government surveillance on private citizens. “The fact that private conversations, internet search history, updates on facebook and twitter could be watched over by intelligence officers is a scary thought. Democracies must not snoop on their citizens. I feel that encrypting mails is a way to get out of having your mails and conversations being out in the open.”

Naveen Kumar, a psychologist contends, “The social media websites have become a place where people share minute details of their lives on the net. This results in a mob mentality of sorts, with people competing with each other to post information online. Though the government snooping on its citizens is not excusable, people must also learn to balance private and public lives on the net.”

Bangalore based communications specialist Ravi Cherla, whose book, Devil’s Ether talked about similar issues of cyber snooping and policing contends, “I have always felt that with the technology the intelligence agencies have, cyber snooping was only a matter of time. It cannot be condemned outright as it has played a key role in ensuring that attacks such as 9/11 have been prevented. It is important that the government puts a mechanism in place that ensures that information about private lives of civilians cannot be accessed at the click of a button.”

He adds, “Private citizens must also take care while posting extremely sensitive data online. It can be misused by government and non-governmental agencies as well. It is very important to draw a line between the public and the personal.”

Media person Jayadevan P.K. contends, “The scale at which citizens are being spied upon by the government is scary. It is said of tyrants, as they plot against the enemy in time of war, so do they against the citizen in time of peace. It is just not done in a democracy. In the Indian context, it only means that we need to get serious about enacting privacy laws and strict controls over what gets done with our data.”

NIKHIL VARMA

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