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#India – Shouldn’t we protest against surveillance ? #mustread

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Ambrose Pinto SJ, Sep 30, 2013 : DH
A surveillance world is a world which is structured and organised on surveillance-based techniques.
To be under surveillance means that the individual or a country involved in surveillance has information about movements and activities recorded by technologies of the one on whom they have decided to snoop. This information is then sorted, sifted, categorised and used as a basis for decisions which may affect the policies towards that country.
Surveillance is normally done by countries that are keen to control other countries. In some of the most authoritarian regimes, such as Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy surveillance was through paper files and informers then. But advanced technologies have changed the very nature of surveillance. Surveillance technologies are more powerful now, allow many more kinds of information to be collected, stored and connected together, and operate more instantaneously. The foundation for all new surveillance technologies is the computer database that is now gathered, tabulated and cross-referenced.  These stores of personal data held on by ordinary people are now central to private business, politics and public services. This data is ‘mined’ and analysed in great depth by sophisticated technologies.
Every transaction provides a ‘data trail’ linkable to credit cards, bank cards, mobile phones, the internet or phone call. Databases are a key part of change in public services. The controversial Aadhaar card is meant to create a complete national digital database of all personal records. National borders are becoming ‘smart borders,’ with huge databases behind the scenes processing information about individuals and their journeys. Profiling is used to create watch lists of dangerous passengers or identify groups who might be more ‘risky’.
Strong arguments
India too is at the centre of a privacy debate. It is set to expand its own surveillance activities through the Centralised Monitoring System, a network that allows intelligence agencies to monitor phone calls, emails and social networking patterns of telephone and internet users in the country. People who want to increase the amount of surveillance in society have strong arguments. They say that there are terrorists and criminals out there, and these tools can help stop violence and crime.
At the college and universities, the administration argues that cameras keep away anti-social behaviour. Hardly anybody looks at the psychological consequences to being watched. Once conscious of being watched people change, tailoring their behaviour to fit what they believe the observer wants. In a society where everyone knows that they are or may be watched as they walk through the streets, or while surfing online the consequences will be reinforcing conformity, and literally crippling the ability to make autonomous and ethical decisions.
In this context how do we see the American surveillance on India? 
Politically, there have been two positions. The first one is of Salman Khurshid who was bold in stating that some of the information that the USA got out of their scrutiny helped us to prevent serious terrorist attacks. On the other hand Kapil Sibal, another minister in the UPA was more introspective and asked India never to take a position either in diplomacy or domestically unless we are completely in the know of what is accessed.  Since New Delhi counts the US as an ally and a crucial international voice in its attempts to secure a permanent seat in the UN Security Council, the Indian position has been one of betrayal of its people.
The fact is USA is collecting lot of critical data pertaining to India on the country’s nuclear and space developments and the information collected is not particularly connected to terrorism.  It is a very serious matter for a country which considers USA as its ally.  Emails, texts and phones of important people related to these fields have been constantly monitored. It means they are listening   to what our political leaders, bureaucrats and scientists are communicating with each other. Why does USA do it?
The US goal is to subject virtually everyone to mass surveillance for hegemony. But why did India become an important surveillance target? Because there are fears that India is an emerging market and by access to its key areas of development, the country can be controlled and made to toe the American line. What we as citizens forget by not protesting is to provide legitimacy to what our leaders who are determined to mortgage the country to American interests are doing. While snooping is an infringement of our sovereignty and a serious security hazard at the political lever, at the personal level it is a serious intrusion in privacy. We need to oppose such intrusion both on our country and the individuals.
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