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India’s approach to surveillance sparks criticism

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India’s privacy laws are insufficient to effectively tackle government surveillance’s menace, especially when the government can force telecom companies to install hardware in subsea cable landing stations. As such, many indigenous and foreign companies are looking to take up the opportunity to sell these surveillance tools.

This backdoor can help the Indian government to snoop on its 1.4 billion citizens, thereby exponentially expanding the country’s internal surveillance architecture, reported the Financial Times.

India’s rapid communication market growth has spawned a competitive industry catering to the demand for potent surveillance tools. Among the contenders are indigenous firms like Vehere and lesser-known entities such as Cognyte and Septier from Israel. However, certain connections within this industry have raised concerns, notably Septier’s inclusion among companies labelled as ‘potentially irresponsible proliferators’ by the Atlantic Council in 2021.

Surveillance is rapidly increasing all over the world. However, what makes the Indian scenario different is the Indian government’s open mandate for telecom companies to install government-approved surveillance hardware in subsea cable landing stations and data centres as a prerequisite for operation. While the government asserts stringent control over surveillance operations, critics argue these measures are mere ‘rubber stamping’ that inadequately safeguards against potential misuse.

After the NSO Pegasus expose, the Indian government is looking for other vendors.

“How much attention can the home secretary pay to each request?” said Pranesh Prakash, co-founder of the Bangalore-based Centre for Internet and Society, to Financial Times. He further added that the need to request permission from the home secretary is just a procedural safeguard and doesn’t do much to distinguish between targeted snooping and mass surveillance.

The Indian government has already come under fire for the NSO Pegasus scandal, prompting the government to look for other alternatives.

In contrast to the Western practices where telecom companies resist government pressure for backdoors after the Edward Snowden fiasco, India’s security agencies request data access permission on a case-by-case basis from the home secretary, bypassing the judicial system. Civil liberty proponents decry this approach as lacking juridical oversight and call for a more transparent legal framework.

While India’s permissive interception regulations find counterparts in some Southeast Asian and East African nations, the sheer scale of India’s telecommunications market exponentially magnifies the influence of its surveillance infrastructure. This expansion proves profitable for lawful interception vendors, exemplified by Vehere’s state-of-the-art monitoring solution designed to assist telecom companies in complying with interception obligations while protecting privacy.

As technology evolves, India grapples with the delicate balance between security, privacy, and civil liberties. The ongoing discourse around government surveillance underscores technology’s pivotal role in shaping society and the complexities of navigating these issues in a digital age.

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Kumar Hemant

Deputy Editor at Candid.Technology. Hemant writes at the intersection of tech and culture and has a keen interest in science, social issues and international relations. You can contact him here: [email protected]

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