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: Newest First | Oldest First | Threaded View
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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.
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
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
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
kstaron   Internet Surveillance Picks Up Speed In India   5/22/2014 8:59:51 AM
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?
Gigi   Internet Surveillance Picks Up Speed In India   5/20/2014 11:29:15 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, 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.
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