Latest reports confirm that the government's longstanding aim of initiating the Central Monitoring System in the country is materialising now. The Times of India reports that the government began rolling out the project last month, and it lets them access all communication in the country – comprising online activities, phone calls, SMSes, social media conversations and even the geographical location of individuals. Using the Central Monitoring System, officials with the National Investigation Agency or tax officials will have access to “every byte of communication”.
The government reportedly has spent Rs 400 crores on this system.
While this system could ensure better security, it is giving sleepless nights to those championing the cause of privacy and Internet freedom in the country. The report further quoted Pranesh Prakash, Director of Policy, Centre for Internet and Society, as saying, “In the absence of a strong privacy law that promotes transparency about surveillance and thus allows us to judge the utility of the surveillance, this kind of development is very worrisome. Further, this has been done with neither public nor parliamentary dialogue, making the government unaccountable to its citizens.”
Will it affect individual privacy? (Image credit: Getty Images)
Pavan Duggal, an advocate with the Supreme Court, believes that the new system “is capable of tremendous abuse”. He went on to say that the government hasn't revealed much on what it intends to monitor with this new system, and under what criteria.
The Centre for Development of Telematics has been given the task of putting this system in place to give government officials this crucial access to communication in the country. In his statement to the Parliament in December last year, IT minister Milind Deora had said that the Central Monitoring System will “lawfully intercept Internet and telephone services”.
This system was initiated in the wake of the horrying bomb blast in Mumbai in November 2008. Post that incident, the government reportedly took on the task of making itself technologically adept to “eavesdrop on digital communications”.
It would be important to quote here that the IT law – enacted in 2000, amended in 2008 and in 2011 – confers upon government officials the authority to intercept phone calls, SMSes, emails and even monitor websites. That, however, can only be done for “reasonable security practices and procedures”.