India has made it to the Enemies of the Internet report published by Reporters Without Borders for the first time, along with US, UK and Russia. In 2012, the group had included India in the list of “under surveillance” countries, that were just a step away from the ‘Enemies of the internet’ list.
India has been criticised in the past for not protecting freedom of speech in Kashmir, North East in various rural areas. However, this is the first time the country’s Internet policies have been deemed to be a threat to the Internet. The group points out that India has draconian IT laws that allows collection of personal data by the government. Some provisions of the law give the authorities a free hand to mount major surveillance operations against users of the web and other telecommunication technology:
– Section 44 authorizes heavy financial penalties against any individual who refuses to provide “any document, return or report” to the government.
– Section 66A provides for up to three years in prison for posting “grossly offensive” or “menacing” messages online. The use of vague definitions allows great latitude for officials who are targeting web users, effectively authorizing arbitrary practices.
– Section 69 authorizes the interception of any information transmitted by computer. Likewise, any person who refuses to decrypt his private information upon official request faces up to seven years in prison.
– Section 80 authorizes the arrest of suspects even without an arrest warrant.
In the report, Reporters without borders also points fingers at Centre for Development of Telematics (C-DOT) for developing Centralised Monitoring Agency (CMS). It needs to be noted that C-DOT is developing CMS in association with Telecom Enforcement, Resource and Monitoring (TREM) and is being manned by the Intelligence Bureau. The government could use data from CMS along with that available via Aadhaar and pass it around the various government departments through the NATGRID, which will be rolled out soon, to stop terrorism. However it could also be used to target people who might be against the government. That being the case, it needs to be seen how this project evolves and how exactly it is used by the government agencies.
The report pointed out that the traditional interception systems transmit data only upon official request. The CMS however, automates the interception process. The monitoring cells, as well as government agencies, enjoy direct access to web users’ data, which is collected without service providers’ approval from the internet or mobile phone networks.
Do remember that India’s Minister of State for IT Milind Deora had called CMS “a good tool” which will “ensure and protect your privacy”.
Reporters without Borders also criticised India for the Internet monitoring system called ‘’Netra’ that will be capable of detecting suspicious words like ‘attack’, ‘bomb’, ‘blast’ or ‘kill’ in real time on social media, emails, instant messaging services, blogs and others is also in the works. It has been developed by Centre for Artificial Intelligence & Robotics (CAIR), a lab under Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO) whose research focuses on various defense related areas in Information and Communication Technology.
Other countries mentioned
India is not the only country that made it to the list for the first time:
– Russia: For blacklisting websites since 2012. The list of websites blocked out has been growing since then.
– Pakistan: For blacklisting websites. For using tools such as Netsweeper for repressing online communication.
– United States: For dragnet surveillance and treatment of whistleblowers.
– United Kingdom: Dubbed champion of surveillance. Joins countries like Ethiopia and Morocco in using terrorism laws to go after journalists. For overblocking online content.
– Ethiopia: For blocking VoIP, sentencing bloggers to prison, blocking online content, installing spyware on devices owned by foreigners.