Internet Surveillance Picks Up Speed In India

Sudha Nagaraj Bharadwaj, Journalist | 5/13/2014 | 32 comments

Sudha Nagaraj Bharadwaj
Internet surveillance in India is turning really fierce. A Facebook transparency report reveals that the social network removed 4,765 pieces of content originating in India in the second half of 2013. India, in fact, had more content removed than any other country. Turkey (2,014), Pakistan (162), Israel (113), Germany (84), and France (80) were also at the forefront of Facebook censorship.

Facebook started publicizing censorship requests from governments last year. The network says on its site:

When governments believe that something on the Internet violates their laws, they may contact companies like Facebook to restrict access to that content. Requests are scrutinized to determine if the specified content does indeed violate local laws. If, after a thorough legal analysis, we determine content appears to violate local law, then we make it unavailable in the relevant country or territory.

However, Facebook's general counsel, Colin Stretch, made it clear in a blog post that content is not removed from the service entirely, unless it also violates the network's community standards. Despite Facebook's contention that requests do not always translate into censorship, the number of pieces being pulled off the network is on the rise.

E2 India has discussed India's censorship of social media in the past. Worried by the growing trend, Facebook joined with companies such as Google, LinkedIn, Yahoo, Microsoft, AOL, and Twitter to reform government surveillance in December. However, the number of programs designed to monitor Internet, telephony, and other forms of communications in India are on the rise, ostensibly to pre-empt crime and acts of terror.

The latest initiative is the Network Traffic Analysis or Netra system. This system, set to be activated soon, has been developed by the Centre for Artificial Intelligence & Robotics, a part of the Home Ministry's Defense Research and Development Organization.

Netra (which means "eye" in Sanskrit) can track dubious voice and text traffic by weeding out words like attack, bomb, blast, and kill. It can sift through millions of tweets, status updates, emails, instant messaging transcripts, Internet calls, blogs, and forum discussions in a matter of seconds.

Do not let your tongue loose when you are on Skype or Google Talk -- or even when you send emails. The government has proposed giving several government agencies access to the system. The top security agencies, including the Intelligence Bureau and the Cabinet Secretariat, would be allotted 300 GB of storage space for intercepted Internet traffic. An extra 100 GB would be assigned to other law enforcement agencies.

In another controversial measure, the government has asked telecom operators to link their Lawful Interception System to the Central Monitoring System (CMS), popularly called India's answer to the NSA's Prism program. When connected with the Telephone Call Interception System, the CMS helps to monitor voice calls, SMS and MMS, fax communications on landlines, CDMA, video calls, GSM, and 3G networks through a direct automated interception process -- bypassing service providers. Security agencies with access to this data are equipped to activate direct electronic provisioning, filters, and alerts on the target numbers. They can also access Call Details Records and deploy analysis and data mining tools to learn the personal information associated with target numbers.

Internet monitoring is also part of several other security schemes, including the soon-to-be-launched National Intelligence Grid, which will cost more than $500 million. It will give 11 intelligence and investigative agencies real-time access to 21 citizen data sources, including police departments, banks, tax authorities, passport offices, vehicle registrations, and telecom companies to track terror activities.

Another surveillance scheme that is progressing, though at a snail's pace, is the Crime and Criminal Tracking Network and Systems. It aims to link 14,000 police stations across the country and prepare biometric profiles of criminals. According to authorities, such a system is required to track the growing menace of cybercrime which is replacing conventional crime.

With the government harnessing technology to its advantage and keeping watch on citizens, it is time for online businesses in India and those that do business there to build a policy around the laws there. You need a plan for how you will comply, what you will hand over or delete, and how transparent you will be about your choices. It isn't going to be easy to walk the line between satisfying the government and keeping your customers happy.

View Comments: Threaded | Newest First | Oldest First
Nicky48   Internet Surveillance Picks Up Speed In India   5/14/2014 9:29:18 AM
Thanks
Sudha - great article, thanks.

I never realized that different countries had these censorship rules.
Nomi   Internet Surveillance Picks Up Speed In India   5/15/2014 2:41:43 PM
Re: Thanks
@Nicky48 I agree there. I am not sure about these rules and censorship laws. I am not sure what is the criteria of declaring something not suitable as it might concern many groups or even countries. Can anyone elaborate it a bit as I am a bit shaky in that.
Sudha N Bharadwaj   Internet Surveillance Picks Up Speed In India   5/20/2014 12:55:36 PM
Re: Thanks
@Nomi,

Online businesses are constantly updating themselves about privacy, freedom of speech/expression and online laws in various countries; also to the cultural sensitivities in regions that they operate in. Sometimes they block content in certain countries, but let the same content go in others. Obviously they will all have clear-cut rules on not allowing certain content which can be harmful for various reasons.
Nomi   Internet Surveillance Picks Up Speed In India   5/20/2014 1:48:26 PM
Re: Thanks
Thanks Sudha. I appreciate your clarification. But I always wonder that why the content is blocked after the complaints. Isn't it better that they after reading the culture first of the region only release what is acceptable there. I think its asking far too much.
Sudha N Bharadwaj   Internet Surveillance Picks Up Speed In India   5/20/2014 12:44:35 PM
Re: Thanks
@Nicky48,

It is entirely my pleasure in updating you dear reader. 
Pedro Gonzales   Internet Surveillance Picks Up Speed In India   5/14/2014 10:12:38 AM
back to 1984
wow.  Such government surveillance is a huge endeavor.  I wonder whether India's citizens aren't bother by such government surveillance.  This has tremendous impact how a person communicates online.  This goes for companies as well that do business in India.  I don't know how CEO would will talking online and knowing that someone is listening on the other side.  Such Monitors could make lots of money through insider trading since they know what is going on at each company. 
MDMConsult   Internet Surveillance Picks Up Speed In India   5/15/2014 12:49:33 AM
Re: back to 1984
Google and Coalition members fight back to government surveillance and data collected from individuals. The threat to mobile data and NSA surveillance are said to have been cracking down on the misuse of such data.
Sudha N Bharadwaj   Internet Surveillance Picks Up Speed In India   5/20/2014 12:36:37 PM
Re: back to 1984
@MDMConsult,

Yes, it is heartening to see online businesses joining hands to shield privacy of consumers...
Nomi   Internet Surveillance Picks Up Speed In India   5/15/2014 2:45:11 PM
Re: back to 1984
@Pedro I agree with you there. I think we can see a biggest identity lost scam in making. Giving full authority in peeping into the personal lives of others in the name of security we are not going in the right direction. Secondly seeing the surveillance at such a big scale will definitely bear fruit if used properly with strict command and control otherwise...........
Sudha N Bharadwaj   Internet Surveillance Picks Up Speed In India   5/20/2014 12:35:12 PM
Re: back to 1984
@Pedro,

Valid point. This can have implications on corporate/competitive intelligence. I am sure some "screening" of surveillance will also happen at some stage due to such concerns.
StaceyE   Internet Surveillance Picks Up Speed In India   5/31/2014 4:30:26 PM
Re: back to 1984
@ Pedro

I am sure there are a lot of people in India who are not happy about the surveillance. As I am sure there are people out there who are protesting it.
zerox203   Internet Surveillance Picks Up Speed In India   5/14/2014 10:47:15 AM
Re: Intelligence Surveillance Picks Up Speed In India
Thanks for this update once again, Sudha. Over the last couple of years (it has been a couple of years already, right?), your posts have given me keen, no-nonense insights into a culture (corporate and otherwise), that's very different from my own, and at the same time very similar. That's the best kind of insight - I'm sure there are plenty of good things to talk about in Indian IT, too, but you sound just like me; pragmatic, worried about how to get your business through the next hurdle, and more concerned with what could go wrong than with what's already going right. I like that.

It is is a bit surreal to hear about the level of government surveillance that goes on in India as you describe it. The programs you describe sound like they're already more invasive than PRISM, and they look to be going even farther in the next couple of years. It's hard to imagine some of these practices being a part of everyday life here in the US or other countries, as some would be flagrantly illegal (although, as we've discovered, that doesn't necessarily stop the gov't), but nevertheless they are for Indian consumers and businesses alike. Is the public outcry about as severe as you would expect, or is there and issue of the general public not having much awareness?
Sudha N Bharadwaj   Internet Surveillance Picks Up Speed In India   5/20/2014 1:05:51 PM
Re: Intelligence Surveillance Picks Up Speed In India
@zerox203, Thanks a lot. I am glad I hit the right chord with my readers...

The initial uproar was strong...but with new programs being unveiled all the time, and very little details to judge them by, the criticism is contained and restricted to the "more aware" circles and the "more affected" at the time being...
zerox203   Internet Surveillance Picks Up Speed In India   5/20/2014 1:38:22 PM
Re: Intelligence Surveillance Picks Up Speed In India
the criticism is contained and restricted to the "more aware" circles and the "more affected" at the time being..."

That's what I was afraid of. Certainly, that's the way it is here in the US. Thanks to the Edward Snowdern leaks, the average person is aware of government surveillance, but that doesn't mean that they really understand it or are being proactive about it. The truth is, government surveillance over here was never really as top-secret as the mainstream media is now reporting it was, and many people 'in the know' speculated that PRISM-like surveillance was going on as much as a decade ago.

Indeed, if you understand how internet technology works, it's very easy to understand how the government could enact all of this without us knowing - and why wouldn't they? In that sense, it's very alarming how few people really still understand this now that it's been leaked publicly, and how often it is used as a generic talking point without a real understanding behind it. I imagine technology-savvy people in India are facing a similar type of frustration these days.
Anand   Internet Surveillance Picks Up Speed In India   5/28/2014 11:49:35 AM
Re: Intelligence Surveillance Picks Up Speed In India
Internet surveillance enables keeping watch on citizens, Allowing online businesses in India and those doing businesses there to build a policy around the laws and also increase transparency in decision making. When the government also feels that some content in the internet it can contact the company to restrict access to that content.

Law abiding citizens would agree to this new initiative put in place for the good of all.
singlemud   Internet Surveillance Picks Up Speed In India   5/30/2014 9:47:55 AM
Re: Intelligence Surveillance Picks Up Speed In India
totally agree, Internet should not be a lawless arena
Rich Krajewski   Internet Surveillance Picks Up Speed In India   5/15/2014 10:56:25 AM
You're kidding, right?
"The top security agencies, including the Intelligence Bureau and the Cabinet Secretariat, would be allotted 300 GB of storage space for intercepted Internet traffic."

You're kidding, right? I can go to Best Buy and get a terrabyte external drive for just a few bucks, but the "top security agencies" will get only 300 GB? Send out 300 GB of gibberish well laced with trigger words, and that should tie up the whole country's intelligence storage capacity.
zerox203   Internet Surveillance Picks Up Speed In India   5/15/2014 12:32:09 PM
Re: You're kidding, right?
@Rich, I had a similar thought, but then it occured to me that 300GB might be the limit for reasons other than storage capacity or cost (at least, cost of hardware). Maybe there's a legal and/or red tape issue involved? Maybe it's to limit misuse of the space and the surveillance; IE if you give them more space, they'll just save everything - this way they actually have to think about it. 300GB is still a lot of space for text. Maybe there's a cost issue involved that's not related to the cost of the space itself. For example, that data has to be tightly secured and encrypted at all times - maybe it would cost too much after a certain point.

In other words, maybe it's a show of good faith to the public, or an appeasement to someone else these organization are beholden to, more than a neccessity. To be sure, as you said, I doubt that the cost of physical storage devices is a bottleneck to any government anywhere, least of in India, the tech capital of the world. Still, there's a bit of reading to be done into that number? How does that stack up against the limits imposed on security organizations in the US? Moreover, do we think any such organizations anywhere in the world are going to stick to such self-imposed limits? After all, who's going to stop them?
Sudha N Bharadwaj   Internet Surveillance Picks Up Speed In India   5/20/2014 12:42:49 PM
Re: You're kidding, right?
@zerox203, Thanks for throwing light on plausible reasons for this; also for the "good faith' angle!
Sudha N Bharadwaj   Internet Surveillance Picks Up Speed In India   5/20/2014 12:41:20 PM
Re: You're kidding, right?
@Rich Krajewski,

Hmmm, you set us thinking there alright. Perhaps the answer lies in some kind of time period ---if they have not thought of it before, these agencies may now qualify it with "per day/week/month...." Just guessing...
Zaius   Internet Surveillance Picks Up Speed In India   5/15/2014 11:29:57 PM
A usual consequence
As the number of internet users grow, its impact also grows. 5 yrs ago, very few cared if something was written on facebook, these days, it matters. There are 'real life' consequences, even some mob might get angry from a single FB news. There needs to be accoutnabitliy on government's part, too. If they just want to hide their own faults all the time, it is a suppression of media ( social media, to be precise). 
Sudha N Bharadwaj   Internet Surveillance Picks Up Speed In India   5/20/2014 12:59:17 PM
Re: A usual consequence
@Zaius, You a re right --social media is getting to be very powerful, which is why the government cannot afford to turn a blind eye to the goings-on, if any.
Gigi   Internet Surveillance Picks Up Speed In India   5/18/2014 11:47:33 PM
Gigi
Coded communication
"Netra (which means "eye" in Sanskrit) can track dubious voice and text traffic by weeding out words like attack, bomb, blast, and kill. It can sift through millions of tweets, status updates, emails, instant messaging transcripts, Internet calls, blogs, and forum discussions in a matter of seconds.'

Sudha, when terrorists are using 'codes' for communication, how this software can detect such highlighted words?
Sudha N Bharadwaj   Internet Surveillance Picks Up Speed In India   5/20/2014 1:01:07 PM
Re: Coded communication
@Gigi,

Do not forget our intelligence agencies are always cracking these codes and are adept at deciphering substitute words. I guess the same techniques will be employed to track cyber terrorism and other crimes as well.
Gigi   Internet Surveillance Picks Up Speed In India   5/20/2014 11:29:15 PM
Gigi
Re: Coded communication
"Do not forget our intelligence agencies are always cracking these codes and are adept at deciphering substitute words. I guess the same techniques will be employed to track cyber terrorism and other crimes as well."

Sudha, first understand that terrorist peoples won't have any standard codes or words. They used to make certain instant codes for communication and other than their counterpart nobody can understand such codes.
nasimson   Internet Surveillance Picks Up Speed In India   5/19/2014 9:27:21 AM
Chinese had a simpler solution
While I was going through the list, I was looking where is China. But then I recalled that China has blocked facebook altogether. Simpler solution! But I bet there will be some proxy solutions out there to access blocked content as facebook blocks the content in the particular geography.
kstaron   Internet Surveillance Picks Up Speed In India   5/22/2014 8:59:51 AM
Corporations
In the U.S. several corporations have tried to shield consumers from over the top government scrutiny and surveillance. As this surveillance grows, can India expect something similar or would a more grass roots effort be required to change the policy?
SunitaT   Internet Surveillance Picks Up Speed In India   5/22/2014 1:30:37 PM
Re : Internet Surveillance Picks Up Speed In India
I believe that the increase in internet surveillance in India, and indeed all over the world is not entirely a bad thing. In fact, to me this is an excellent idea which if properly implemented would only make the internet space there better. No matter how many conspiracy theories are weaved around it, the government is very clear about its reasons for such surveillance. The trend should not be a cause for worry at all to internet users in the affected countries if they do not plan to use the internet for crime or terrorism. Case in point, the NSA has been doing the same thing over here for years and if not for Snowden very few people would have known or even felt the effects of the surveillance.
SunitaT   Internet Surveillance Picks Up Speed In India   5/22/2014 1:42:58 PM
Re: Re : Internet Surveillance Picks Up Speed In India
In my opinion, this is the project that should have taken centre stage when it comes to internet surveillance. This is a very necessary tool and I doubt whether any law abiding citizen in the country would be opposed to this. Frankly I can't understand why the government did not give the highest priority to this project and its slow development should cause a lot of concern. Of all the projects listed here under internet surveillance, I believe that it is the one that would do the people the most good.
Rich Krajewski   Internet Surveillance Picks Up Speed In India   5/22/2014 7:53:43 PM
Re: Re : Internet Surveillance Picks Up Speed In India
"Of all the projects listed here under internet surveillance, I believe that it is the one that would do the people the most good."

I imagine different cultures have different ideas about the relationship between citizen and state, which leads me to wonder, will there ever be a non-US Snowden? When Snowden disclosed spying on US citizens, I expect he believed others cared in the way he appeared to care, otherwise why bother to make the revelation? But was he a uniquely US phenomenon? Should US companies expect there to be heavy surveillance of their activities when they operate in other countries, as a function of culture? Perhaps the culture in the US is changing to reflect attitudes of other countries, where "Of all the projects listed here under internet surveillance, I believe that it is the one that would do the people the most good."
Anand   Internet Surveillance Picks Up Speed In India   5/27/2014 6:37:25 AM
Re: Re : Internet Surveillance Picks Up Speed In India
The fact that the government of India has taken a step to monitor most on the activities going on in the internet is very encouraging. This is because they are able to monitor the type of activities their citizens indulge in through the internet. This I believe will improve the rate of security in India. I think this poses a challenge to other governments. If only all the governments will indulge in internet monitoring, then the world will be a better place.
tekedge   Internet Surveillance Picks Up Speed In India   5/30/2014 11:18:14 PM
Re: Re : Internet Surveillance Picks Up Speed In India
@Sunita, yeah surveillance is very necessary especially in these digital times. We realise it keeps us safe to some extent


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