After the major leak of the US Government’s surveillance program ‘PRISM‘ last week, several Indian ISPs have now asked the Indian Government to insist foreign Internet companies like Facebook and Google to setup local servers in India, in order to provide their respective services in the country, reports The Hindu Business Line.
Speaking to the publication, Rajesh Chharia, President, Internet Service Providers Association of India (ISPAI) has told that several ISPs have expressed concerns over the privacy of its respective users and have sought immediate steps to protect them. ISPs have also asked the government to mandate foreign companies to store data from users within the country in these local servers, so that the data is not available to any other foreign intelligence agency.
The privacy issue is quite strange, considering that India has recently set up a similar system called ‘Central Monitoring System’, through which government agencies can access all telecommunications and Internet communications in India and the ISPs had not raised any privacy issues about their subscribers then. Furthermore, there is no privacy law in the country as of now, thereby paving the way for a possible misuse of the system in the future.
If the government is successful in forcing foreign companies to setup local servers, we are a bit concerned about the amount of data to which the government agencies will be privy to, since there is still not enough information on Central Monitoring System like whose data is being collected, how the collected data will be used, and how long the data will be retained among others. Ideally, we feel such a system should’ve been implemented after a public debate on the matter, whereas this system was implemented without even a single parliament debate, as indicated by FirstPost.
COAI Response: Cellular Operators’ Association of India (COAI) Director-General Rajan Mathews seemed to think on similar lines. Speaking to Business Line, he said that setting up local servers wouldn’t serve any purpose since security agencies wouldn’t be able to decrypt the data. He also added that the government should instead formulate laws which will protect the consumer’s privacy as well as allow law agencies to access specific unlawful elements.
Facebook & Google Lawsuit: This development comes at a time when Facebook and Google are already fighting a case, pertaining to safety measures in place for minors on their respective sites.
Last month, the Delhi High Court had asked Facebook and Google to file suggestions on how minors can be protected online in India, since they allow children above 13 years of age to open an online account, which was apparently in violation of the Indian Majority Act, the Indian Contract Act and the Information and Technology Act, as per a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by the former RSS leader K.N. Govindacharya.
Also remember that, BlackBerry (previously RIM) had also faced a long drawn battle with the Indian authorities on BlackBerry interception, before finally giving in last August and setting up a server in Mumbai to provide security agencies access to its BlackBerry Messenger services. The company however had denied claims that it had handed over encryption keys for its secure enterprise services to the Indian government last August and continues to maintain the same position.