Report points to violation of privacy of citizens by Indian government

A report launched by the Software Freedom Law Centre (SFLC) titled India's Surveillance State at the Internet Governance Forum, currently underway in Istanbul, has faulted the Indian state over privacy violation 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 for logistics and provisioning for internet monitoring systems, which pointed to the large number of firms active in selling surveillance equipment in India.

Further, according to the report, an unknown number of Lawful Interception and Monitoring (LIM) systems, tasked with collecting and analysing citizens' communications data and meta-data, was already installed in India's communication networks.

It added, capability-enhancing technologies and databases such as the Central Monitoring System (CMS), Network Traffic Analysis (NETRA) and National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID) were in varying stages of deployment. The report further added, New Delhi was also known to outsource surveillance initiatives to private third parties, a number of which even infected target devices using malicious software to gain access to information stored within.

The report further revealed that the Indian government spied on over 1 lakh calls on a yearly basis. According to the report the number of union government telephone tapping orders had been observed at 7,500 to 9,000 on a monthly basis.

The findings are partially based on a May 2014 RTI reply received from the Union Ministry of Home Affairs. Rule 419 A of Indian Telegraph Rules 1951 allowed for a lawful order for interception to be issued under unavoidable (and undefined) circumstances.

The regulations are not very specific and allow for multiple interpretations in a number of ways, especially if the government felt the need to enforce a certain law.

Meanwhile, according to commentators, though 1 lakh phone tapping directives a year appeared to be a staggering number, there were security problems to be considered too.

They say the Indian government needed to start addressing citizens' privacy by first altering Rule 419 A mentioned above.