The world’s largest democracy, in terms voters, now comprehensively monitors every phone call, text message, email and online activities of its citizens and indeed the visitors’. Welcome to India, where the government has built a US$74 million Central Monitoring System. This third eye of the spy outfits is claimed to be used for enforcing “reasonable security practices and procedures” within the country.
But privacy and internet freedom advocates are predictably critical. Pranesh Prakash, director of policy at the Centre for Internet and Society, said:
“In the absence of a strong privacy law that promotes transparency about surveillance and thus allows us to judge the utility of the surveillance, this kind of development is very worrisome. Further, this has been done with neither public nor parliamentary dialogue, making the government unaccountable to its citizens.“
Pavan Duggal, a cyberlaw specialist, said the government has given itself unprecedented powers to monitor private internet records of citizens.
“This system is capable of tremendous abuse,” he said. The Central Monitoring System, being set up by the Centre for Development of Telematics, plugs into telecom gear and gives central and state investigative agencies a single point of access to call records, text messages and emails as well as the geographical location of individuals.
Duggal, who closely follows New Delhi’s battle with internet firms, said there hasn’t been much details from the government on what exactly the system intends to monitor and under what conditions.