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India Is Transforming into Endemic E-Surveillance Society

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Headlined to None 5/15/09

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Information and Communication Technology (ICT) must be used as a tool of development rather than as a means of harassment. Excessive and illegal e-surveillance eliminates the chances of effective use of ICT on the one hand and operates as an opponent of e-governance on the other. E-governance presupposes a free, fair and transparent public dealing in the cyberspace. Of late India has been treading on the wrong path of becoming an excessive surveillance State rather being a technology knowledge driven society. The only solace comes from the fact that the recent unconstitutional Information Technology Amendment Act, 2008 (Act 2008) has not been imposed upon Indian citizens through the essential "notification" and the same would be withdrawn and reformulated by the new Government in all probabilities.

The recent example of mandating the e-mail companies to maintain their e-mail servers in India is a very novice decision. It only shows the ignorance about cyber security and ICT management issues in India. It is not clear whether Congress led government has come up with this idea or it is a work of government departments like Department of Information Technology (DIT) or Department of Telecommunications (DOT). Whoever has suggested this idea has no knowledge how Internet works and cyber security is ensured.

A recent study designed to rank countries in terms of how aggressively they monitor their populations electronically, has placed the US as 6th and the UK as 5th on a global index. The two countries lag behind only China, North Korea, Belarus and Russia in terms of governmental surveillance. India has been ranked as 23rd in this survey. This is due to the fact that presently the "controversial and unconstitutional" Information Technology Amendment Act, 2008 has "not been notified" till now. The moment Act 2008 is notified India would rank among the top five as there are unreasonable, excessive and unregulated e-surveillance powers conferred by the Act 2008.

The report, titled The Electronic Police State, was compiled from information available from different organisations such as the Electronic Privacy Information Center, Reporters Without Borders, Freedom House, the Ludwig von Mises Institute and The Heritage Foundation. 52 countries were rated on 17 criteria with regard to how far down the line they are toward a total electronic police state.

The proposed e-surveillance powers under the Act 2008 would be a death knell for privacy rights in India. In such situation it would be interesting to observe the use of private defense in cyberspace against encroaching State. However, such aggressive defense may not be needed as the new Government would change the law through properly conducted "legislative work" the moment next Parliament comes into session. It would be better if the Parliament discusses and debates the new Information Technology Amendment Act, 2009 (Act 2009) this time to ensure that no casual law making takes place.

 


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