International human rights organisation, Human Rights Watch (HRW, New York) has called out the Indian Government to enact clear laws regarding surveillance and protection of privacy of its citizens and with this regard, the organisation has also asked the Indian government to hold a full and transparent  public debate on the matter.

In April 2013, the Indian government began rolling out the Central Monitoring System (CMS) enabling government agencies to monitor and analyse all telecommunications and internet communications including telephone calls, email, text messages, MMS, fax communications on landlines, CDMA, video calls, GSM and 3G networks in the country.

HRW is concerned that the Indian government has not provided enough information on how the collected data will be used, how long the data will be retained, whose data will be collected, among others. This information is especially important because India lacks a privacy law protecting the rights of its citizens. Since the Central Monitoring System has not been passed by the parliament, the Human Rights Watch would like the Indian government to hold a public debate on the matter.

Surveillance so far by India: In a recent report, the Centre for Internet & Society had pointed out that India has around 76 companies in India that manufacture surveillance technology that aids the Indian government agencies in monitoring public data.

The Indian government has also been requesting for data from internet companies including Google, Microsoft and Twitter. It is worth noting that between July and December 2012, Google received 2,431 requests for disclosure of user data from 4106 accounts, from the Indian government and the company complied with as many as 66% of the requests.

Microsoft received a total of 418 requests for disclosure of 594 users & accounts from the Indian government for the calendar year 2012 while Twitter received less than 10 requests from India against less than 10 users/accounts with a 0% compliance rate between January and June 2012.

USA collects 6.3 Billion data from India

We believe that a public debate on the CMS and a privacy law is of utmost importance considering the recent revelation about USA collecting Indian data. USA has collected 6.3 Billion data from India in March 2013 through its National Security Agency (NSA)’s PRISM program by tapping into the servers of companies such as Google, Facebook, Apple, Yahoo, Microsoft, for information including search history, the content of emails, file transfers and live chats according to a Guardian report.

The report further states the NSA uses a data mining tool called Boundless Informant that details and even maps by country the voluminous amount of information it collects from computer and telephone networks. Iran ranks first in the list of countries targeted by USA with more than 14 billion data, followed by 13.5billion from Pakistan. Jordan came third with 12.7billion, Egypt fourth with 7.6billion and India fifth with 6.3billion data. It is not clear why India’s data was being collected, what data has been collected and what USA plans to do with the data collected.

Polar tasks for the Indian government?

Will the Indian government take a stand against USA for tapping into the data of Indian citizens standing up for its citizens? Even if it did, will the government also be willing to have an open public debate with its citizens on its decision to monitor its own citizens’ data? It is worth noting that the Indian government’s plan for internet telephony includes unified licenses and interception.

The right to privacy is guaranteed under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which India is also a state party. However, India has still not passed a privacy law.