By Vikas SN
While there is no privacy law in India yet, the Government is shortly launching an Internet monitoring system called ‘Netra’ which will be capable to detect suspicious words like ‘attack’, ‘bomb’, ‘blast’ or ‘kill’ in real time on social media, emails, instant messaging services, blogs and others, reports The Economic Times.
Citing a note from the telecom department, the report mentions that security agencies will be able to monitor voice traffic on services like Skype, Google Talk and others through this system and this deployment will facilitate setting up of a national Internet scanning & coordination centre, similar to ones present in the United States, United Kingdom, China and others.
Netra has been developed by Centre for Artificial Intelligence & Robotics (CAIR), a lab under Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO) whose research focuses on various defense related areas in Information and Communication Technology like artificial intelligence, robotics, intelligent systems, communication & information security and others. The lab is also reportedly working with Centre for Development of Telematics (C-DoT) to develop a formal strategy to track Internet usage.
A PTI report also cites a home ministry note on Netra which states that the Intelligence Bureau and Cabinet Secretariat have conducted tests on the system and the ministry is currently providing final touches to the system, following which it will be provided to security agencies.
Netra seems to be another key component in the Indian government’s broader Internet surveillance plans over the past few years. However, we are curious on how the system is able to monitor phrases in private conversations like emails, IM conversations, since that typically requires a backdoor entry to the respective service.
But we are reminded of a recent report which had suggested that the government was planning to ask its US counterpart to share the technology it uses to decrypt conversations happening over chat services like WhatsApp and Skype, if the companies don’t do so themselves. Last year, there were alsoreports of several Indian ISPs asking the government to force foreign Internet companies like Facebook and Google to setup local servers in India.
While mining of public data for “suspicious” words is understandable, we are a bit skeptical of its usefulness since terrorists or anti social elements wouldn’t probably discuss their plans publicly on Twitter or other blog platforms.
Indian Government Internet Surveillance Initiatives
Last month, it was indicated that the Indian government’s ambitious intelligence gathering project National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID) will be up and running in four months and the initial stage could involve the “real-time linking” of data between various agencies through the NATGRID platform.
Besides this, there is the Central Monitoring System (CMS), which is essentially India’s version of NSA’sPRISM surveillance program and tracks what we say or text over the phone, write, post or browse over the Internet, by getting direct access from telecom operators and ISPs. Last July, Department of Telecommunications (DoT) was reportedly planning to ask all telecom operators to connect their Lawful Interception System (LIS) to the Indian government’s Centralised Monitoring System (CMS) and had inserted clauses in mobile licenses for enabling this surveillance. (Courtesy: medianama.com)