Documents released by Wikileaks once again something that we already knew – that governments are tracking and storing information on what citizens are doing. Wikileaks has two Indian companies in the list of those providing digital surveillance technology:
– Delhi based Shoghi, which according to its brochure, has a “semi active GSM monitoring system”, which allows “Real-time monitoring of GSM communications”, and allows keyword spotting in SMS, among other things. Wikileaks suggests that the company does Internet, Phone, speech and SMS monitoring. Their brochure here.
– Clear Trail: which provides”interception, monitoring, and analytic solutions”, and mass monitoring of IP and Voice Networks, across IP, WiMAX, GSM, CDMA, PSTN, GPRS, 3G/3.5G, VSAT, and IDEN, with on demand data retention, Speaker Recognition and Target Location. Interestingly, they have an mTrail mobile interception product, with “no support required from GSM Operator”. Their brochure here.
A third company, Shield Security, listed as an Indian venture, appears to be UK based.
In a video, Wikileaks’ Julian Assange says that “Now we have a situation where these companies sell to state intelligence organizations the ability to spy on the entire population at once, that is called strategic interception. Take all telecom traffic out of the country and permanently record it.”
Well, that governments plan to intercept and monitor communications is not new to us, and over the last couple of years, their intent has become quite public. Some examples:
– We have the details of a communications monitoring tender from India’s Ministry of Home Affairs, looking to intercept Calls, SMS, GPRS and location. Read here.
– Telecom Operators and ISPs are deploying monitoring equipment for surveillance of Internet traffic. Read more.
– Video Calling was banned for a while because it couldn’t be monitored.
– The government wants location monitoring to be brought down to 50 meters.
– Delhi Police also has a Internet Interception System Tender
– The government is still in the process of trying to intercept encrypted communications over Blackberry’s network, which security agencies haven’t been able to intercept.
In this context, also note that Reliance Industries has formed a joint venture with Siemens for “Homeland Security Solutions”.
As I’ve said before, we’ve moved to a paradigm wherein governments want to collect as much information on individual users as possible, and use it as and when they want to. A majority of the communications in this country is over mobile networks, and while it seems like an unimaginably massive task to store all voice and data traffic, calls from specific phones and devices might be tracked, or specific keywords might be tracked. What governments do will with that info, one doesn’t know, but there have been selective leaks of call recordings in the recent past, followed by claims of doctoring of call recordings.
As Assange says “160 companies that sell surveillance technology and equipment to governments across the world. These have the potential to be misused by unscrupulous officials and undemocratic regimes.”
Clearly, with communications going digital, the interplay between citizens, media, political figures and governments is changing forever. Apart from issues of privacy, this leads to an aggregation of information and hence power with the entity that access to more information, and the ability to manipulate that information. This doesn’t augur well for democracy.