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Monday, September 23, 2013

Indian metadata snooped - PRISM - and India remains unresponsive

You encounter them so often ~ in life as also in Office, there are people who tend to ask too many personal details and speak of the personal life of others ………….

snoop (V) : to  pry into the private affairs of others, especially by prowling about.
prying (V) : to inquire too inquisitively into a person's private affairs.

Not so surprisingly there are Nations who snoop ….. the surprising element that some Nations do not react when reports reveal that they have been snooped !!! ~ but what will a Nation do with personal data like FB is not understood by a commoner like me.  Elsewhere, the US denying the Venezuelan president the right to fly over Puerto-Rico  was termed as an insulting juvenile escapade and  example of the incredible clumsiness of the US government towards Latin America.

If you are wondering what all this is about……. remember the disclosures  and my earlier post on PRISM - a clandestine national security electronic surveillance program operated by the United States National Security Agency (NSA) since 2007; and the leaks by a NSA contractor who claimed the extent of mass data collection was far greater than the public knew, and included "dangerous" and "criminal" activities in law.  The whistle blower who is hardly 30 has been on the run since..... hours after  his real identity was revealed, a  petition was posted on the White House website, asking for "a full, free, and absolute pardon for any crimes  he had  committed or may have committed related to blowing the whistle on secret NSA surveillance programs. That was all about - Edward Joseph Snowden -  a US former technical contractor for the National Security Agency (NSA) and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) employee who leaked details of top-secret US and British government mass surveillance programs to the press. Snowden's leaks are said to rank among the most significant breaches in the history of the NSA.

Recently, Rajya Sabha members expressed concern over the U.S. government’s Internet snooping programme and asked the Centre to take immediate steps to safeguard the country’s strategic interests and privacy of its citizens. BJP MP Tarun Vijay said the Indian government, its leaders and citizens were all vulnerable to such kind of “cyber incursions,” which were posing a serious threat to India’s sovereignty and security. The BJP MP said Indian officials, particularly those working for strategic organisations, were using private emails like Gmail for their official communication. “It is a known fact that these emails can easily be monitored by the U.S. agencies … It is therefore important that all official email communication should be from a secured, government-owned gateway to save our information from leaking out.”
Now there is growing concern as it is stated that among the BRICS group of emerging nations, which featured quite high on the list of countries targeted by the secret surveillance programs of the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) for collecting telephone data and internet records, India was the number one target of snooping by the American agency. In the overall list of countries spied on by NSA programs, India stands at fifth place, with billions of pieces of information plucked from its telephone and internet networks just in 30 days.  Earlier the Minister for External Affairs Salman Khurshid even defended the U.S. surveillance program by saying that “it is not… actually snooping,” ~ now it is not simple snooping but bundles of metadata taken…..  The Hindu quoting technology experts states that a detailed account of an individual’s private and professional life can be constructed from metadata, which is actually the record of phone number of every caller and recipient; the unique serial number of the phones involved; the time and duration of each phone call; and potentially the location of each caller and recipient at the time of the call. The same applies to e-mails and other Internet activities of an individual. The high volume of metadata taken from India — 6.2 billion in just one month — means that the U.S. agency collected information on millions of calls, messages and emails every day within India, or between India and a foreign country. The information collected is part of a bigger surveillance system.

The metadata is machine-readable, and therefore searchable, and thus  it makes intensive surveillance possible as the record of a person’s email logs, phone records and clickstream — all the websites visited ever………… even with the millions of mobile phones in use in India, this amount of data is too huge.  While U.S. carriers have maintained a studied silence on the issue, India has not made any furious reaction.  This possibility not only significantly compromises India’s network security but also national security, since domestic call records could relate to top secret calls between politicians, bureaucrats and armed forces officials who lead India’s strategic defence planning.

The Govt for sure would state that this has not compromised the privacy of Indian citizens in any way ~ but can Nation afford to remain so lax is the crucial Q  ~ loads of Facebook data may not mean much of Govt. policies and activity while the same cannot be true of e-mail and telephone communication ~ and whatever be how can any Nation be it a Super power access information in such a manner and what this undignified response so far reveals ~ lack of gumption or the strength to respond ????? ~ and a servile attitude.  Sad indeed.

Snowden has since left the United States  received a temporary asylum and now resides at an undisclosed location;  he has been variously called a hero,a whistleblower; a dissident; a traitor and a patriot….  Whatever he be and howsoever be treated ~ there is much for India at stake


With regards – S. Sampathkumar.
23rd Sept. 2013

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