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India’s Centralized Monitoring System will launch before end of March 2016

privacy-cmn-surveillance

In a written reply to the Rajya Sabha, Ravi Shankar Prasad, the Minister for Communications & IT, has said that the Centralized Monitoring System (CMS) is expected to be launched by the end of the current financial year (thus, before the end of March 2016), and will be progressively operationalised. Hat tip: Amlan Mohanty

As per the minister:
– the CMS will allow interception and monitoring by state and central law enforcement agencies
– will operate on a case by case basis
– The information will be transferred to the law enforcement agencies without being seen by the “provisioning agency” (probably, telecom operator).
– There will be a review committee under the chairmanship of the Cabinet Secretary at the Central government level, and Chief Secretary of the State at the State Government level.
– “Additionally, there is an inbuilt mechanism of check and balance as Security Agencies/Law Enforcement Agencies cannot provision the target and the provisioning agency cannot see the content.”

The minister also mentioned that this system is covered by law, more specifically, “section 5(2) of Indian Telegraph Act, 1885 read with rule 419A of Indian Telegraph (Amendment) Rules, 2007”

A copy of the entire answer below.

MediaNama’s take

This is in line with what Milind Deora, former Minister of State for IT, said when I’d asked him about the CMS, privacy and surveillance a few years ago. The government has changed, but what was being done then is still being done. It’s not lost on us that the same government tried to defend Section 66A of the IT Act in court, which was eventually declared unconstitutional, and the Attorney General of the Union of India argued for privacy in one case (where there was citizen backlash):

“Geographic frontiers are no longer frontiers. If it (porn) can be distributed, it can be stopped. How can you stop it on the phone? The other thing is that if someone wants to watch in the privacy of their bedroom, how can we stop that? These are now issues of 19(1)”

and against it in another:

“The invasion of privacy is of no consequence because privacy is not a fundamental right and has no meaning under Article 21.

That begs the question whether the citizens of India can respect the Union of India to respect the privacy of its citizens, or whether the Union of India operates on the basis of certain principles, or is everything situational and circumstantial. If the review committee for the usage of the Centralized Monitoring System is going to have only government functionaries (Cabinet Secretary or Chief Secretary of the State) only, where is the oversight? Who watches over them? In our opinion, all instances of surveillance must be backed by a court order, and be for a limited timeframe. Continuous monitoring of citizens, and the creation of a surveillance state, is dangerous for democracies.

Lastly, the CMS only allows the government to surveille citizens without the knowledge of entities like telecom operators. It doesn’t prevent the telecom operators from snooping on them.

For more details on CMS read: Indian Government Plans Digital Central Monitoring System

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The Question and the statement (source)

GOVERNMENT OF INDIA
MINISTRY OF COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY
DEPARTMENT OF TELECOMMUNICATIONS

RAJYA SABHA
UNSTARRED QUESTION NO. 1501
TO BE ANSWERED ON 11TH DECEMBER, 2015

CENTRAL MONITORING SYSTEM

1501. DR. K. KESHAVA RAO:

Will the Minister of COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY be pleased to state:

(a) the details of operationalising the Central Monitoring System (CMS) and who will have access to this data and restrictions on its use;

(b) whether the information gained through such surveillance would be a parallel database;

(c) whether CMS will have any parliamentary or judicial oversight; and

(d) the safeguards built into CMS?

ANSWER

THE MINISTER OF COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY
(SHRI RAVI SHANKAR PRASAD)

(a) Sir, Government has decided to set up the Centralized Monitoring System (CMS) to automate the process of Lawful Interception & Monitoring of telecommunications. The execution of the CMS project has been entrusted with Centre for Development of Telematics (C-DOT). The CMS is anticipated to be progressively operationalised from the end of the current financial year. The CMS will enable access for Lawful Interception and monitoring by designated Central and State level Law Enforcement Agencies(LEA) in serious desirable case of National Security and allied matters on case to case basis as per the provisions of Section 5(2) of Indian Telegraph Act, 1985 read with Indian Telegraph Rule 419 (A).

(b) The Intercepted information will be transferred in a secure manner to the Designated LEA through an automated process without content being seen by the provisioning agency. The intercepted information thus gathered can be used by the Designated LEA as per the existing legal Framework.

(c) & (d) The lawful interception and monitoring is governed by the section 5(2) of Indian Telegraph Act, 1885 read with rule 419A of Indian Telegraph (Amendment) Rules, 2007 wherein oversight mechanism exists in form of review committee under chairmanship of the Cabinet Secretary at Central Government level and Chief Secretary of the State at the State Government level. The same mechanism is applicable for the interception under the CMS Project also. Additionally, there is an inbuilt mechanism of check and balance as Security Agencies/Law Enforcement Agencies cannot provision the target and the provisioning agency cannot see the content
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