Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Privacy Nightmare Of India

One of the most unique feature of governance by Indian government is that while government keeps even it’s public and basic level communications a “secret”, it plays with even the most intimate and private aspects of its citizens openly and without any legal framework.

There is no reason why we have official secrets act, Indian telegraph act and other similar draconian colonial law on our statute books. Still even if a person exercises his right to information under the Indian right to information act, 2005, the government is quick enough to find one excuse or other to deny the information.

I recall a recent episode where even the most basic information regarding the number of phone taps in India was denied by Home Ministry of India on the extraneous grounds. Yet when it comes to issues like phone tapping, e-surveillance, interceptions of communications, all of them are done without any constitutionally sound law in this regard.

Phone tapping is done unconstitutionally under the Indian telegraph act. There are no practical safeguards that are actually followed by Home Ministry in this regard. Even a court warrant is not obtained before tapping any phone in India.

Similarly, Indian government made the sole cyber law of India e-surveillance legislation by enacting provisions that provide absolute e-surveillance powers to Indian government and its agencies but without any procedural safeguards for their abuse. So much so that even rules required to be framed for the same have been deliberately kept in abeyance by Indian government.

Realising that interceptions and snooping is financially viable, even private individuals and organisations are openly doing the same for professional charges. Even department of telecommunications (DoT) India is aware of this practice. Although DoT has issued a notification banning such practice yet does it have a right to ask for same when its own house in not clear and in constitutional order.

The only solution to this privacy assassination by Indian government seems to be technology. However, Indian government is not even happy if we use technologies like encryption to safeguard our privacy. Blackberry, Google and Skype have been threatened by Indian government to part away with their encryption keys and give Indian government and their agencies a backdoor access to the same.

These companies may or may not provide a backdoor to Indian government but nothing is safer if we use open source encryption and other security mechanisms to ward away illegal and unconstitutional e-surveillance and phone tapping in India. After all self help and self defence are the most viable solutions in the absence of any desire on the part of Indian executive and parliament to protect our privacy rights in India.