|India’s latest online surveillance capabilities seem to undermine citizen’s rights to privacy and free expression, a global human rights organization said.
Considering serious doubts over the intent of country’s new monitoring system, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has asked the Indian government to enact clear laws to ensure that increased surveillance of phones and the Internet does not threaten any such rights of its citizens.
The report said that the Indian government launched the Central Monitoring System (CMS) in April this year, which would enable it to monitor all phone and Internet communications in the country. The CMS would provide centralized access to the country’s telecommunications network and facilitate direct monitoring of phone calls, text messages, and Internet use by government agencies, bypassing service providers.
“The Indian government’s centralized monitoring is chilling, given its reckless and irresponsible use of the sedition and Internet laws,” Cynthia Wong, a senior Internet researcher from HRW, said in a press release. “New surveillance capabilities have been used around the world to target critics, journalists, and human rights activists.”
In January 2011, India’s Ministry of Communications and Information Technology announced that steps would be taken to establish the CMS, which will facilitate and prevent the misuse of lawful interception facility.
However, according to the report, the Indian government has released very little information about what agencies would have access to the system; who might authorize surveillance; and what legal standards must be met to intercept various kinds of data or communications.
The HRW said that because the CMS was created without parliamentary approval, the Indian government should convene a full public debate about the intended use of the system before proceeding.
In the recent past, a couple of Indian citizens were arrested by the police when they expressed their dissatisfaction over some well known politicians and officials via their social media networks.
India does not have a privacy law to protect against arbitrary intrusions on privacy, which might have addressed some of these issues.
“The authorities should amend the existing Information Technology Act and rules to protect free speech and expression, and be fully transparent about any surveillance system that might chill people’s willingness to share opinions and information,” Wong said.