Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Cabinet Committee On Security Of India Must Be Upbeat Says Praveen Dalal

Kunal Koel

Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee has recently stated that government of India is willing to empower a concerned ministry with additional powers if the situation demands so. He has also observed that whenever the government has empowered enforcement agencies with sweeping powers, there have been cases of misuse. So when the government gives them the authority that they require, it has to simultaneously ensure that there will be adequate safeguards to prevent any misuse.

This is one of the most sensible and mature statements by an Indian minister, says Praveen Dalal the leading techno-legal expert of India. However, the call is not meant for a finance minister but for the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) of India to take. The role of CCS is presently not very proactive. Although it has done a good job by demanding procedural safeguards for the national intelligence grid (Natgrid) project yet it must vigorously concentrate upon internal and external security of India as well, suggests Dalal

The CCS can form committees and sub committees for various issues of national importance where experts from different fields can provided their suggestions, opined Dalal.

The internal security of India is presently under great stress due to terrorist activities and extremists acts. The home ministry of India must get a good support from not only other ministries but also from the CCS itself, recommends Dalal.

Methods To Prevent Illegal Information Sharing By ISPs And Service Providers

Pritesh N Munjal

In an interesting article it has been reported that Chris Soghoian, an Indiana University PhD candidate and security and privacy researcher has advised companies to say no to government requests for data as it is good for business. He has also pointed that saying yes can be really bad for business. It is bad on many counts ranging from bad reputation to defending law suits. Further, such actions are also agitated by the civil liberty activists.

Most of the information requests by governmental authorities are either not supported by law or they are illegal. Very few of them are genuine and law abiding. Illegal information and data requests violate the civil liberties of the end users who have utmost faith in service providers. In fact the growing concerns of human rights in cyberspace have forced the service providers to change their attitude towards privacy rights and information sharing.

Recently Google released the raw estimates of governmental requests regarding disclosure of information stored by it. No surprise India occupies third position for “removal request” and fourth spot for “data requests”. With the growing commitment towards e-surveillance in India, India may get the top position very soon.

However, not everything can be left at the level of service providers. The end users must take precautionary as well as private defense measures. One way is to simply not store the data as in the absence of any information nothing is there to be searched and acquired.

For instance, the world renowned website Indymedia is believed to be keeping no records of its users and logs. This way they can successfully protect the civil liberties of its users on the one hand and frustrate illegal and unreasonable search and seizure warrants on the other.

Another method is that companies that store data for users can encrypt it, providing the key only to the user so that the company is unable to provide that data to law enforcement.

Finally, whistleblowers can use Wikileaks Model to spread words against corruption and other illegalities in governmental departments. They can also use the right to information act 2005 of India and make RTI application to ascertain the truth. The list is just illustrative and you can use your imagination to expand and use it for public good.

The Rationale Of Legal Framework for Aadhar

No time in the history of India the threats of Civil Liberties violations and e-surveillance were as great as are in the present times. The instrumentality that has become the core of this civil liberty fiasco is Aadhar project of India or UID project of India. This is because the UID project intends to gather information that is very sensitive and secret in nature. Combined with other publicly announced projects like national intelligence grid (Natgrid) as well as secret projects of India it can peak into the personal lives of Indians anytime and anywhere. That is why there is an emergent need of good and robust privacy law in India as well as data protection law in India.

It seems the history is repeating itself in India. India is launching projects after projects without proper legal framework. The projects like Aadhar, Natgrid, etc are not only unconstitutional but also undesirable in the absence of just, reasonable and fair law prescribing procedural safeguards.

The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) has recently got an approval from the Cabinet Committee on UIDAI headed by the Prime Minister of India Dr. Manmohan Singh. It can now gather demographic and biometric data of Indian residents for UID project. However, the process does not stop here. UID project would not only be combined with projects like Natgrid but also with projects like National Population Register (NPR) operational under the ongoing census of India.

Think about a scenario where every minute and single details of an individual are combined with his biometric details and put at a single place at the disposal of as many authorities as desired by the government of India. Some of them would be authorities that would neither seek the permission nor report to the Central Government while performing its surveillance and e-surveillance activities.

It would be prudent if the government of India formulates both privacy laws and data protection law before proceeding further with projects like aadhar, Natgrid, CCTNS, etc.

Whistleblower Protection Law Is Required In India

Corruption and whistleblower protection are conflicting claims. A corrupt society would neither tolerate honest whistleblowers nor would it endeavour to protect them through legal and non-legal means.

India currently does not have a law to protect whistleblowers. It is only after the murder of whistleblower Satyendra Dubey, the Government of India issued an order directing the Central Vigilance Commission to protect whistleblowers. India also does not have a law for witness protections.

Whistleblower and witness protection is a duty of India that it has miserably failed to fulfill. However, India alone is not the only nation to do so. There are other nations as well who have failed to do the needful. What would citizens do if their nations do not care about their honesty, integrity and fight against corruption? Perhaps they must use technology to fight corruption. Sound promising but does it holds good? Definitely yes.

Take the example of Julian Assange, the founder of the whistleblower website Wikileaks. He is maintaining a great site where fight against corruption and lack of transparency is fought over by anonymous soldiers. It has stored tons of secret governmental documents that have leaked from their offices and places. These documents show the truth about governmental intentions and their acts or missions. Obviously, the governments and their agencies are not happy with the same as they prefer to maintain secrecy at all cost.

However, the chances of harassment of such whistleblowers are very great. Recently, the passport of Julian Assange was confiscated by immigration officials when he arrived at Melbourne Airport last week. Though the passport was subsequently handed back he also received a letter from the Australian Communication Minister Steven Conroy’s office stating that the recent disclosure on Wikileaks of a blacklist of websites the Australian government is preparing to ban had been referred to the Australian Federal Police (AFP).

So if you are prepared to face the wrath of governments go ahead and launch a platform similar to Wikileaks. Alternatively support Wikileaks by making a donation that you can afford. But do not sleep over the matter and do something for the protection of whistleblowers in India.