by Maria Xynou

CIS LogoWe live in an Internet Surveillance State with us constantly being under the microscope. However, law enforcement agencies would not be capable of mining our data, intercepting our communications and tracking our every move if they did not have the technology to do so. I started looking at surveillance technology companies since an investigation of the surveillance industry is an integral part of research for any privacy advocate. India is a very interesting case not only because it lacks privacy legislation, but also because no thorough investigation of the surveillance industry in the country has been carried out to date.

A glimpse of the surveillance industry in India

In light of the UID scheme, the National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID), the Crime and Criminal Tracking Network System (CCTNS) and the Central Monitoring System (CMS), it is necessary to understand who supplies law enforcement agencies the technology to surveille us.

I randomly selected a sample of 100 companies which appeared to produce and sell surveillance technology to reduce the probability of research bias. This sample included companies producing technology ranging from internet and phone monitoring software to  biometrics, CCTV cameras, GPS tracking and access control systems. It turned out that 76 out of 100 of them sell surveillance technology varying only in types of surveillance technology produced including  internet monitoring software and encryption tools but do not restrict themselves to only producing surveillance technology. Thus they label themselves as companies that also sell surveillance technologies to law enforcement agencies, among the many things they do.

Some of the companies listed in Table 1 are Indian, whilst others have international headquarters and offices in India with majority of them based in India’s IT hub, Bangalore.

Table 2 shows the types of surveillance technology produced and sold by these 76 companies.

The graph below is based on Table 2 and shows which types of surveillance are produced the most by the 76 companies.

Surveillance tech graph

 Graph on types of surveillance sold to law enforcement agencies by 76 companies in India

Out of the 76 companies, 32 of them sell surveillance cameras, whilst 31 companies sell bio-metric technology. Only one company from the sample produces social network analysis software, but this does not mean that this type of technology is low in the India, as this sample was random sand many companies may have been excluded. Moreover, 13 companies from the sample produce data mining and profiling technology, which could be used in social networking sites having similar, if not the same capabilities as social network analysis software.

Surveillance is often mistaken as an issue which concerns the elite since the majority of the population in India does not even have Internet access. However, the data in the graph above falsifies this belief, since many companies operating in India produce and sell phone and SMS monitoring technology because more than half the population owns mobile phones. Thus, it is probably safe to say that surveillance is an issue which affects everyone, not just the elite.

Did you Know

spyware pic

Image credit: CARLOS62 on flickr

1.   WSS Security Solutions Pvt. Ltd. is north India´s first CCTV zone

2.   Speck Systems Limited was the first Indian company to design, manufacture and fly a micro UAV indigenously

3.   Mobile Spy India (Retina-X Studios) has the following mobile spying features:

●      SniperSpy: remotely monitors smartphones and computers from any location

●      Mobile Spy: monitors up to three phones and uploads SMS data to a server using GPRS without leaving traces

4. Infoserve India Private Limited produces an Internet monitoring System with the following features:

●      Intelligence gathering for an entire state or a region

●      Builds a chain of suspects from a single start point

●      Data loss of less than 2%

●      2nd Generation Interception System

●      Advanced link analysis and pattern matching algorithms

●      Completely Automated System

●      Data Processing of up to 10 G/s

●      Automated alerts on the capture of suspicious data (usually based on keywords)

5.  ClearTrail Technologies deploys spyware into a target´s machine

6.  Spy Impex sells Coca Cola Tin Cameras!

7.  Nice Deal also sells Coca Cola Spy Cameras, as well as Spy Pen Cameras, Wrist Watch Cameras and Lighter Video Cameras, among others

8.  Raviraj Technologies is an Indian company which supplies RFID and biometric technology to multiple countries all around the world including non-democracies, such as Zimbabwe and Saudi Arabia as well as post-revolutionary countries, such as Egypt and Tunisia

●      Non-democracies lack adequate privacy and human rights safeguards and supplying them with biometric and tracking technology,  could lead to further oppression

●      Egypt and Tunisia had elections to transit to democracy and by providing them biometric technology, this could lead to further oppression and stifle efforts to increase human rights safeguards

Most people are aware that their data uploaded on Facebook is under surveillance, one way or the other and that their mobile phones can potentially be wiretapped or intercepted. Yet, that does not prevent us from using our smartphones or from disclosing our personal data on the internet. The most mainstream argument with regards to surveillance appears to be:  “I´m not a terrorist, I have nothing to hide!

In a surveillance state, to what extent does it really matter if you are a terrorist? How do we define ´risky information´ and ´non-risky´ information? In a surveillance society, we are all potentially suspects. The mining and profiling of our data may lead to us somehow being linked to someone who is a suspect.  As long as we are under surveillance, we are all suspects, which means that we can all potentially be arrested, interrogated and even tortured, just like other criminal suspects.

By not opposing repressive surveillance laws, or surveillance schemes such as NATGRID and the CMS in India, among others, we are fuelling the surveillance state.  Surveillance today appears to be a product of Information Revolution and our illusion of having control over our personal data. Our apathy enables surveillance laws to be enacted and companies to produce the technology aiding law enforcement agencies with surveillance.

Companies producing and selling surveillance technologies should be accountable for the implications their products have on right to privacy and other human rights. Companies, however, produce technologies based on the market demand. The market appears to demand for surveillance technologies because a surveillance culture has been established, (may be) triggered by political interests for public control making surveillance socially integrated. The fact that in most countries in the world, it is considered socially prestigious to work in such a company is minimum proof that surveillance is being socially integrated. It is easy to blame companies, but the reality of surveillance appears to be much more complicated than that with social integration.

No enactment of a privacy law means that individuals are not informed when their data is collected, accessed, processed, shared, disclosed and/or retained. It also means that law enforcement agencies having an impact on accountability and transparency along with serious threats to human rights.

Along with privacy legislation, regulations on the use of all surveillance technologies should also be enacted. Some companies, such as Raviraj Technologies, are exporting bio-metric technology to non-democratic countries and fragile states transitioning to democracy where chances of human right violations are higher. Export controls are necessary to prevent exports to countries which lack legal safeguards for their citizens. This also applies to international companies selling surveillance technologies in India.

Surveillance technologies can potentially have very severe effects, with innocent people even being murdered in some states. Should surveillance technologies be treated as weapons? Should same export restrictions that apply to arms apply to surveillance technologies? Sure, the threat posed by surveillance technologies appears to be indirect. But don’t indirect threats usually have worse outcomes in the long run? We may not be terrorists and we may have nothing to hide but we have no privacy safeguards with a massively expanding surveillance industry in India.

A version of this post was published on Centre for Internet & Society, India website

The Centre for Internet and Society is a non-profit research organization that works on policy issues relating to freedom of expression, privacy, accessibility for persons with disabilities, access to knowledge and IPR reform, and openness (including open government, FOSS, open standards, etc.), and engages in academic research on digital natives and digital humanities.