Saturday, May 22, 2010

E-Surveillance And Internet Censorship: A Deadly Combination In India

India has not enacted adequate safeguards against e-surveillance and Internet censorship activities by its government and its agencies. On the other hand, India has now officially become an e-police state. The sole cyber law of India is incorporated as Information Technology Act 2000 (IT Act 2000) that was amended by the Information Technology Amendment Act 2008 (IT Act 2008).

The IT Act 2008 although provided draconian, unreasonable and sweeping e-surveillance and Internet censorship powers to the agencies and instrumentalities of Indian government yet it deliberately restrained from prescribing any procedural safeguards to prevent their abuses.

Recently Google released the raw estimates of governmental requests regarding disclosure of information stored by it. No surprise India occupies third position for “removal request” and fourth spot for “data requests”.

India must immediately enact a suitable legislation to prevent growing incidence of e-surveillance. India also does not have dedicated and separate privacy laws and data protection law. This is why projects like Aadhar/UID project and Natgrid Projects are fatal for the civil liberties of Indians.

The government of India is not wiling to rectify the situation. In fact the situation is getting worst as now e-surveillance activities of India are supplemented with Internet censorship acts of governmental agencies. Any dissident who has raised a voice against Indian government must be aware of the brutal censorship of his online voices. You might have wondered why your online news and search results have disappeared suddenly without any reason or explanation. This is because known agencies like Cert-In and many unknown and unaccountable agencies are actively enageged in Internet censorship the moment they see any unpleasant topic at Internet.

There is also no whistleblower protection law in India. In these situations self help seems to be the obvious choice for law abiding and constitutionally protected citizens. As an additional step, if you are a law abiding citizen and you suspect that your online transactions and acts are under surveillance you can use the techno-legal recourses mentioned at the Human Rights platform. If you are a Google search fan, you must consider using its Google SSL service that would frustrate a sniffer’s attempts to violate your privacy.

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Eagle Eyes

The outer space is an area dominated by few countries and India is one of them. India has its own indigenous capabilities to build and launch space vehicles and in many cases has supported other nations as well in their space activities.

One aspect that I firmly and strongly endorse is very limited use of outer space for military proposes. Further, intelligence agencies or law enforcement agencies must also not use the same for the sake of using. Space is a common territory meant for the common betterment of mankind and no country should claim monopoly over it and abuse it on flimsy grounds.

This debate over sovereign control of space territory by any single nation started when the first “Sputnik” was launched in the space by the U.S.S.R on October 4, 1975. Since then numerous space ventures have been undertaken by various countries, including India. These activities led to the enactment and adoption of the Outer Space Treaty in 1996. It contains the following important principles:

(1) Freedom of exploration of outer space,
(2) Non-appropriation of outer space,
(3) Peaceful use of outer space,
(4) Jurisdiction of States over objects launched,
(5) International responsibilities for national activities,
(6) Assistance to personnel of space craft,
(7) Promotion of International Co-operation in the use of outer space, etc.

Besides this treaty many other agreements have been entered into on the International level from time to time.

It must be appreciated that “military use” of outer space is prohibited almost in all these agreements but military oriented activities in the outer space have been intensified in the recent past despite their prohibition. The systems and techniques capable of destroying an adversary’s satellites have been a major focus of arm race in outer space.

However, there are many positive sides and advantages of outer space usage as well. One of them pertains to use of military and spy satellites for bringing peace and order within a national territory. If a nation is facing real and imminent threat from either internal or external aggression, there is nothing wrong in using these spy satellites for tackling such threats. For instance, there is nothing wrong if Indian government uses its satellites for repelling the threats of Maoists or other terrorists’ organisations who are violating various Human Rights in India without any regard for human dignity and any piece of humanity. Killing innocent people does not prove any point and neither would a soft stand on the part of government of India would be useful in this situation. India should rise about regionalism and political agendas and unite in this fight against terrorism.

However, with great power come great responsibilities as well. This is almost always forgotten by governments of various nations, including India. Such sweeping powers must be suitably regulated and exceptionally used. It should not be unregulated and there should be no arbitrary use of these technologies. The eagle eyes are not meant for fun or curiosity satisfaction but for achieving the larger national interest of India.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Why Legislation For Aadhar Project Of India Is Required?

No time in the history of India the threats of Civil Liberties violations and e-surveillance were as great as are in the present times. The instrumentality that has become the core of this civil liberty fiasco is Aadhar project of India or UID project of India. This is because the UID project intends to gather information that is very sensitive and secret in nature. Combined with other publicly announced projects like national intelligence grid (Natgrid) as well as secret projects of India it can peak into the personal lives of Indians anytime and anywhere. That is why there is an emergent need of good and robust privacy law in India as well as data protection law in India.

It seems the history is repeating itself in India. India is launching projects after projects without proper legal framework. The projects like Aadhar, Natgrid, etc are not only unconstitutional but also undesirable in the absence of just, reasonable and fair law prescribing procedural safeguards.

The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) has recently got an approval from the Cabinet Committee on UIDAI headed by the Prime Minister of India Dr. Manmohan Singh. It can now gather demographic and biometric data of Indian residents for UID project. However, the process does not stop here. UID project would not only be combined with projects like Natgrid but also with projects like National Population Register (NPR) operational under the ongoing census of India.

Think about a scenario where every minute and single details of an individual are combined with his biometric details and put at a single place at the disposal of as many authorities as desired by the government of India. Some of them would be authorities that would neither seek the permission nor report to the Central Government while performing its surveillance and e-surveillance activities.

It would be prudent if the government of India formulates both privacy laws and data protection law before proceeding further with projects like aadhar, Natgrid, CCTNS, etc.

Whistleblowers Protection Law In India Is Urgently Required

Corruption and whistleblower protection are conflicting claims. A corrupt society would neither tolerate honest whistleblowers nor would it endeavour to protect them through legal and non-legal means.

India currently does not have a law to protect whistleblowers. It is only after the murder of whistleblower Satyendra Dubey, the Government of India issued an order directing the Central Vigilance Commission to protect whistleblowers. India also does not have a law for witness protections.

Whistleblower and witness protection is a duty of India that it has miserably failed to fulfill. However, India alone is not the only nation to do so. There are other nations as well who have failed to do the needful. What would citizens do if their nations do not care about their honesty, integrity and fight against corruption? Perhaps they must use technology to fight corruption. Sound promising but does it holds good? Definitely yes.

Take the example of Julian Assange, the founder of the whistleblower website Wikileaks. He is maintaining a great site where fight against corruption and lack of transparency is fought over by anonymous soldiers. It has stored tons of secret governmental documents that have leaked from their offices and places. These documents show the truth about governmental intentions and their acts or missions. Obviously, the governments and their agencies are not happy with the same as they prefer to maintain secrecy at all cost.

However, the chances of harassment of such whistleblowers are very great. Recently, the passport of Julian Assange was confiscated by immigration officials when he arrived at Melbourne Airport last week. Though the passport was subsequently handed back he also received a letter from the Australian Communication Minister Steven Conroy’s office stating that the recent disclosure on Wikileaks of a blacklist of websites the Australian government is preparing to ban had been referred to the Australian Federal Police (AFP).

So if you are prepared to face the wrath of governments go ahead and launch a platform similar to Wikileaks. Alternatively support Wikileaks by making a donation that you can afford. But do not sleep over the matter and do something for the protection of whistleblowers in India.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

History Is Repeating Itself

One concept that India lacks most while formulating its national policies and taking crucial decision is a “holistic approach”. Indian government always prefers extreme approach of this way or that way. It never bothers to consider both sides of the proposal. India firmly believes that civil liberties and national interests are mutually exclusive and the former cannot be reconciled with the latter in any case. Rather India is not willing at all to reconcile the same and adopt a holistic approach. All it is doing is imposing initiatives after initiatives even at the cost of human rights of Indian citizens.

Take the example of national intelligence grid (Natgrid) of India. Natgrid is a much required centralised ICT system of India. None can doubt the importance of a project like Natgrid. However, it is not a wise idea to ignore human rights absolutely while implementing Natgrid. This mistake was previously committed by the Home ministry of India and as a result of the same Natgrid was stalled temporarily. It seems the Home Ministry is trying to revive the project again but there are no indications as to safeguards taken to prevent its misuse. If this is the form in which Natgrid would be implemented, I have serious doubts about its objectives as well as results.

Take another example of Aadhar Project of India. This is one of the most important projects that India should undertake as soon as possible. However, the aadhar project is also suffering from the reconciliatory lapses. There are various factors that are making it unconstitutional and illegal in its present form. Fortunately, aadhar would be regulated by a law. This I think is the right approach that India must take. It is always better to remove the obstacles and barriers first and then proceed further. There is no sense in proceeding unprepared and then leaving the projects half baked and semi successful after spending crores of public resources.

I hope Indian government would not commit the same mistakes again as that would amount to blunder. All it is required to do is to take a one time pain and strengthen it base for all subsequent crucial projects like Natgrid, Aadhar, CCTNS, etc.