Saturday, July 6, 2013

Eavesdropping, please do it!

Finally I am back in India, after a long absence! After Singapore's first world efficiencies, coming back to India is like travelling to the past in a time machine. Surprisingly, I find myself least agitated or on contrary, in an excellent mood even when almost everything around, seems to function as if it is going to collapse very next moment. The roads are totally dug up everywhere and a wrong step means embracing mother earth with a thumping passion. Yet I feel least bothered because almost everything that I need to maintain myself, is available just across the road. We used to have traffic jams around my house usually later in the day. Now I find that a long line of vehicles waiting patiently from the early hours of the day itself. In short things have got worst and yet strangely they appear least bothersome, at least for me.

But, I don't want to write about life in India today. Maybe, I can do it some other time. What interests me today is a news item about a revelation by media during my absence, that an Indian Government agency knows as NIA has quietly launched sometime back a programme to monitor and watch individual communications like phone calls and e mails.

The Times of India apparently had reported sometime in May 2013:

The government last month (April 2013) quietly began rolling out a project that gives it access to everything that happens over India's telecommunications network—online activities, phone calls, text messages and even social media conversations. Called the Central Monitoring System, it will be the single window from where government arms such as the National Investigation Agency or the tax authorities will be able to monitor every byte of communication.”

It seems that this project taken up two years earlier, was totally under wraps. TOI report says further:

The government has given itself unprecedented powers to monitor private internet records of citizens. This system is capable of tremendous abuse. The Central Monitoring System, being set up by the Centre for Development of Telematics, plugs into telecom gear and gives central and state investigative agencies a single point of access to call records, text messages and emails as well as the geographical location of individuals.”

As expected, there has been a wide ranging debate and anger in the press and in the media here about Government's efforts to snoop down on individual citizens lives, whereas Government has kept defending it as a necessary evil, considering the terrorist threats. 

But there has been no widespread ill feeling or anger, except for what is said by few learned Pundits against this Government action. Unlike in USA, where revelations about PRISM programme run by US Government, has created quite a bit of stir. In India common man seems to be least bothered about this action against his/her individual freedom. One can keep analyzing this unexpected reaction, to his/her heart's content. I do not intend to do that. Because I know that this game plan, that has been launched by the Government is going to be a non starter in India like most of other Government plans, at least in the case of the average citizens like me. Now that is a rather bold statement. But let me explain why?

For example, if someone needs to monitor my phone calls, my phone line must be working in the first place. Only yesterday our land line decided to take a break in the afternoon. It returned to work only late evening. I can see the frustration of a a monitoring officer, who finds that the phone line, he is supposed to monitor, is just not connected at all.

Things are no better with mobiles. The signals usually are so weak in the house that I need to walk near the window to hear what the caller wants to say. I tried to call a friend yesterday, when network kept on telling me for next half an hour that I should call later because the network is congested. I would any day welcome someone monitoring my phone lines because there may be a chance that they might work all the time.

There is no power outage as such, in my home town Pune. Yet, the electrical power flowing into my house, has a strange habit of disappearing for few seconds once in a while. Many years ago, when things were real bad, I had installed a battery operated back up system. That somehow still runs and my computers and mainly the WiFi network still keep working when power disappears. But whenever there is a changeover to backup power, my DSL modem just hangs up and requires a manual re-start. That can be quite a nuisance if you are working. If someone wants to watch my WIFi network, I am sure that he wouldn't like to see his client network going bust 10 times a day. See my point!

Like a vehicle speed being driven around here in Pune, which can very between 0 and 60 Kms per hour from instant to instant, my boradband speed keeps going up and down all the time. Sometimes a site may render in a fraction of second. Sometimes it can take even 10 to 15 minutes. I have learned to manage it, but can you imagine the frustration of a monitoring authority, who wants to watch, which sites I am logging in? I am sure he would soon go mad.

This is why I would any day, welcome with open arms, anyone who wants to watch my phones and broadband lines. I am sure most of the Indians would also do it because it opens up a possibility that these things might actually work then. That is why there is no objection at all to the Government's plan to monitor individual' telecom network.HaHa!

6 June 2013

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