India violating privacy of Internet users: report

A number of Lawful Interception and Monitoring systems are installed in India’s communication networks

September 05, 2014 05:05 am | Updated 05:05 am IST - CHENNAI

A report launched by the Software Freedom Law Centre (SFLC) titled ‘India’s Surveillance State’at the Internet Governance Forum, currently underway in Istanbul, said the Indian state is violating the privacy of its citizens through use of internet monitoring systems.

An application filed under the Right to Information Act by SFLC revealed a list of 26 companies that had expressed interest in a tender floated by the Director General for Police, Logistics and Provisioning for Internet monitoring systems, underlining the large number of firms active in selling surveillance equipment in India.

The Report further revealed that an unknown number of Lawful Interception and Monitoring (LIM) systems, tasked with the collection and analysis of citizens’ communications data and meta-data, are already installed in India’s communication networks. Capability-enhancing technologies and databases such as the Central Monitoring System (CMS), Network Traffic Analysis (NETRA) and National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID) are in varying stages of deployment, it says. New Delhi is also known to outsource surveillance initiatives to private third parties, some of which even infect target devices using malicious software to gain access to information stored within, the Report adds.

Lawful “spying”

The Report notes that Section 69 of the Information Technology Act, 2000 imposes an obligation on Internet Service Providers to provide all assistance to government agencies to intercept any communication. Failure to comply with it may result in imprisonment for up to 7 years and fines.

The Controller of Certifying Authorities uses Section 28 of the IT Act, an ambiguous provision, to collect user data from technology companies. An RTI request by SFLC revealed that they have made 73 requests under this provision in 2011.

Bridging digital divide

However, growing concerns among internet users regarding widespread surveillance were not addressed by the representative of the Indian government at the IGF. “Indians without access to internet form 25% of the people in the world left out of the digital world. So it was the priority of GoI to attend sessions where we could pick up ideas on how to bridge this gap,” R.S. Sharma, secretary, Department of Electronics & Information Technology (DeiTY), Government of India, told The Hindu over phone from the venue of the global summit. He added that as part of current government’s digital India plan, bridging the infrastructural gap and improving fibre optic network coverage was one of the key goals of government. “By December 2016 we aim to bring broadband connectivity to all panchayats,” he said.

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