Phone tapping scandal says Indian government spies on over 1 lakh calls

A recently unveiled phone tapping scandal in India has revealed that the government listens in on more than 1 lakh calls on a yearly basis. The India’s Surveillance State report in question puts the number of union government telephone tapping orders at 7500 to 9000 on a monthly basis.

The findings were revealed at the Internet Governance Forum in Istanbul which took place this week and happens to be partially based on a May 2014 RTI reply received from the Union Ministry of Home Affairs. Rule 419 A of Indian Telegraph Rules 1951 makes accommodations for a lawful order for interception to be issued under unavoidable (and undefined) circumstances.

Man Holding Phone

- Advertisement -

The report was rolled out by legal services organization Software Freedom and Law Center (SFLC). It points to the unavailability of a lawful framework explicitly for protecting the privacy of the citizens of India. The right to privacy is presented by Article 21 of the Indian Constitution as ‘Protection of life and personal liberty: No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.’

Also Read: Google polluted Internet with classified info, says Surveyor General of India

It is not very specific and can be interpreted in various ways, especially if the government feels the need to enforce a certain law. What’s more worrying is the news that a tender for Internet monitoring systems which was floated by the office of the Director General of Police, Logistics and Provisioning in 2011, saw 26 domestic and international companies in the IT field expressing their interest in placing bids for it.

- Advertisement -

SFLC’s India’s Surveillance State report points to the dangers facing individual privacy when Internet surveillance technology and the power of pulling up such information are clubbed together. Several of the companies keen on bidding for the tender have been included in the list disclosed as part of the Spy Files project by Wikileaks. Some offer social network analysis, data mining and profiling, apart from phone tapping services.

Related post: Internet Spy system ‘Netra’ launched by Indian government

Although 1 lakh phone tapping directives a year appears to be a staggering number, there are security problems to be considered too. So who is to define what makes for an ‘unavoidable circumstance’ when the rules themselves don’t provide a clear definition? Maybe the Indian government should start addressing citizens’ privacy by first altering Rule 419 A mentioned above.

- Advertisement -