The Government of India quietly launched the Central Monitoring System (CMS) in April this year. CMS is a surveillance project, a counterpart of the U.S.A.’s PRISM project. It will allow the government to monitor voice calls, texts messages, emails, social media activities and the geographical location of the citizen. So far, the project has been launched in Delhi, Haryana and Karnataka.
CMS is being implemented by the Center for Development of Telematics (C-DoT) under Department of Telecommunications. A total of Rs. 400 crore has been allotted for it. Operationally the Intelligence Bureau is overseeing the project. Till date, 7 major telecom operators have started sharing the data with the project. The system still lacks the mechanism to pin-point threats.
Nine government agencies are authorized to make intercept requests, including R&AW, CBI, NIA, Central Board of Direct Taxes, Narcotics Control Bureau and the Enforcement Directorate. All these agencies can look into your data.
Officially, the government has not disclosed much information about the project. In a recent Google Hangout session, the Minister of state for Communications and IT, Milind Deora, argued that the government will be the sole custodian of the data. Most people are worried for the same reason.
After Snowden saga, growing number of people are asking questions about the project. Nobody knows how the data will be used; or how many people will be under surveillance; or for how long the data will be kept in the record.
What will happen if somebody’s data is misused or leaked? In the U.S.A.’s PRISM project, surveillance orders are approved by courts. However in India, there is no such provision. We are living in a democratic country, implementing such a system without proper checks and balances sets a very dangerous precedent. Every citizen enjoys Right to Privacy, as guaranteed by the Constitution of India. A project, which can have far reaching effects, needs to have judicial oversight and parliamentary approval.
Being a terrorism prone country, India needs to have some sort of surveillance on a small level, but such a large-scale tracking of all citizens is a matter of concern. Nobody would mind selected surveillance, but of whole population is not desirable. In future, same data can be used for data analysis and could jeopardize chances of getting the government jobs, passport and business licenses of innocent civilians.
Hacking is another major threat. Many countries and companies have better hacking capabilities than Indian government. Leaving entire population so much vulnerable, in order to enable surveillance, is wrong move. The focus should be on the needs of the citizen, rather than on the government’s convenience.