The expose by Edward Snowden in June 2013 has taken the world by storm. An employee with the National Security Agency in the US, Snowden was horrified at the extensive spying that this and other agencies were involved in. The spying (or surveillance as America would like to term it) was conducted on embassies, dignitaries and civilians. In an extremely brave move, Snowden made public information about the existence, functions and scope of several classified US surveillance programs. Some of these programs are PRISM (surveillance program), NSA call database, Boundless Informant and Tempora (a British black-ops surveillance program run by GCHQ, NSA’s British partner). According to Washington Post journalist Barton Gellman, Snowden wrote before their first face-to-face meeting, “I understand that I will be made to suffer for my actions, and that the return of this information to the public marks my end.” He was right. He is a fugitive today moving from country to country as the US government hounds him. He has applied for asylum to 20 (or more countries) and has yet to find a home. One of the most trending topics on search engines today, Edward Snowden has no place to go.
Snowden’s explanation for his giving out the information: “I don’t want to live in a society that does these sort of things [surveillance on its citizens]… I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded.”
But why should you and I care? We are ordinary folks living an everyday existence in India. This doesn’t really touch our lives, right ?
The Indian government is quietly rolling out a project, Central Monitoring System, since the last few months. The Central Monitoring System gives all government bodies such as the National Investigation Agency and tax authorities access to everything that is exchanged over the telecommunications network. This includes online activities (including what you do on social media networks), phone calls and text messages. Every byte can potentially be a bite!
Obviously a project of this scale and sophistication didn’t spring up overnight. Allegedly, this has been in the works for 2 years now. There have been tenders, vendors, up-gradation of machines and offices involved.
However, this project has been rolled out quite stealthily. The public in India didn’t have any inkling about it. There has been no dialogue in the Indian Parliament either.
Why has the Indian government shrouded this project in secrecy? If the intent is to beef up the security in the country, it should’ve been announced as such. With all the terrorist attacks that we have been subject to, it is unlikely that many citizens would oppose it. In fact, it may have been better had it been welcomed by than thrust upon the populace.
Principally, this may not be such an awful thing. But we live in a land where there is no lack of folks who want to snoop and spy on others. Who may use that information in ways that we cannot even imagine. It is not like we have the ablest safeguards to protect ordinary citizens. This system can be abused by wrong-doers in many, many ways. Under pressure and duress, it is also possible to implicate innocents on the basis of random conversations.
No Protection For The Innocent
Then there is the other aspect of privacy and internet freedom. Infringement of privacy will become quite the norm. In addition, there is a question of whether India is moving the China way and whether strict policing will be put in place. Whether sites that we use all the time will be banned and whether we are going to end up in a completely government controlled world. That scenario would be an extremely scary mixture of the worlds from The Hunger Games and The Matrix series. If such a thing actually comes to pass, a platform like India Opines may find that it cannot exist!
The Indian Government will give Uncle Sam access to our records ?
Finally, the allegations running along the grapevine of optical fibres insist that information access to the Indian government is only a front. All information is finally going to Uncle Sam. The lines between Big Brother (the Indian Government) and Uncle Sam are quickly getting blurred – and if American citizens protest against their government snooping on them why would Indians be happy to allow Uncle Sam to snoop on their privacy via the Indian government?