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Yahoo India Takes On Indian Govt On Privacy In Delhi High Court

Yahoo India has challenged a Rs 11 lakh fine imposed on it by the Indian government, because it refused to share profile details of certain email ID’s that the Home Ministry had requested, reports the Times of India. We’ve requested Yahoo India for a copy of its petition (no information is available on the Delhi High Court’s website), but the reports suggests that Yahoo has challenged the government for bypassing legal procedures under the cloak of National Security, and trying to coerce information from it, by bypassing confidenciatlity agreements. The next hearing of the case is the 9th of January 2012.

It’s interesting to see Yahoo challenging the orders in court, while Google disclosed a 70% compliance with government requests. A few things to keep in mind:

1. Precedence setting: We don’t know if Yahoo is challenging primarily because of the fine, but this could set a precedence for online privacy and the procedure that the government needs to follow for acquiring user specific information. So far, it appears that intermediaries have been compliant. If you’re aware of any other such instances of government requests for user information being challenged, do let us know.

2. Immediacy of requirement: Sometimes the information required by government bodies is time sensitive – for example, they might want to monitor an account that is believed to be being used to plot terrorist attacks. In that case, going through a formal procedure might take too much time, which is why the government also wants real-time monitoring.

3. You’re going to be monitored: As Milind Deora submitted to the Parliament, “telecom operators and internet service providers are deploying monitoring equipment for surveillance of internet traffic as per the conditions of the respective license agreements and as per the requirements of security agencies. At present, indigenous internet monitoring systems are being deployed in the network of internet service providers.”

Facebook, Google, Yahoo – because of the relative dominance of these services, and the amount of information – your information – that passes through their networks, or even their open networks (mobile operators with SMS, calls, mobile Internet; Google with Google search, mail, Google Plus; Facebook and it’s Open Graph), you’re dependent on them to anonymise and protect your information. Governments are working towards putting in systems that allow them to gain access to all your information – email, IMs, calls, GPRS, SMS, Location (read this)

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I think we’re entering an age of paranoia. Governments are at one level withholding information – where they’re trying to restrict access to information and trying to dilute the Right To Information Act, and at another level, increasing monitoring so that something, somewhere can be collected at evidence. Adequate privacy laws need to be put into place. You have to ask yourself – how would you feel if your mail was being read because you’re using Gmail or Yahoo mail, or your movements tracked through your mobile operator?

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