India has launched a wide-ranging surveillance programme that will give its security agencies and even income tax officials the ability to tap directly into e-mails and phone calls without oversight by courts or parliament, several sources said. The move comes amid much controversies raised in US over the government snooping. The US government is involved in snooping over the electronic data beyond its boundaries. The move, which the government says will help safeguard national security, has alarmed privacy advocates.
The Central Monitoring System (CMS) was announced in 2011 but there has been no public debate and the government has said little about how it will work or how it will ensure that the system is not abused. The new system will allow the government to listen to and tape phone conversations, read e-mails and text messages, monitor posts on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn and track searches on Google of selected targets, according to interviews with two other officials involved in setting up the new surveillance programme, human rights activists and cyber experts.
India’s Information Technology Act 2000 has been amended twice in 2008 and 2011 and allows government officials to access personal emails, phone calls or text messages as part of reasonable security practices and procedures. The ‘reasonability’ remains conveniently undefined and depends on official discretion. The ability to snoop with out much difficulty may finally land up in the systems misused for personal/political/business gains.
The government started to quietly roll the system out state by state in April this year, according to government officials. Eventually it will be able to target any of India's 900 million landline and mobile phone subscribers and 120 million Internet users.
"Security of the country is very important. All countries have these surveillance programmes," said a senior telecommunications ministry official, defending the need for a large-scale eavesdropping system like CMS. "You can see terrorists getting caught, you see crimes being stopped. You need surveillance. This is to protect you and your country," said the official, who is directly involved in setting up the project. He did not want to be identified because of the sensitivity of the subject.
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