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.

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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.
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.
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...
Sudha N Bharadwaj   Internet Surveillance Picks Up Speed In India   5/20/2014 1:01:07 PM
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 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.
Sudha N Bharadwaj   Internet Surveillance Picks Up Speed In India   5/20/2014 12:55:36 PM
Re: Thanks

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.
Sudha N Bharadwaj   Internet Surveillance Picks Up Speed In India   5/20/2014 12:44:35 PM
Re: Thanks

It is entirely my pleasure in updating you dear reader. 
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...
Sudha N Bharadwaj   Internet Surveillance Picks Up Speed In India   5/20/2014 12:36:37 PM
Re: back to 1984

Yes, it is heartening to see online businesses joining hands to shield privacy of consumers...
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