Do you stay in Delhi? If so, it’s time to recall all the mobile phone conversations you had with friends, family and associates. It’s time to recall the private messages and pictures you shared on WhatsApp and other social networking sites. It’s time to remember the sensitive data meant for your close associates, your lawyer or chartered accountant. If you believe that the secrets you share electronically remain between you and your partner, you are probably wrong! All this while, shadowy figures have been tracking each and every detail you shared, and they work for agencies of the Government of India itself.
Taking a cue from the United States National Investigation Agency (NSA) clandestine surveillance project PRISM, the central government has developed a Central Monitoring System (CMS) in India. The project is designed for ‘lawful interception and monitoring communication’ over phone and internet. While the government is planning to make CMS operational throughout the country by the end of this year, Delhi has been the first to get a taste of it. Documents with TEHELKA show that C-DoT (Centre for Development of Telematics), the State’s telecommunication R&D centre, proposed implementation of the CMS pilot project in Delhi in 2011-12 by two telecom service providers (TSPs). C-DoT’s Result Framework document says lab testing of the CMS was completed in financial year 2009-10. A year after, infrastructure was set up for the pilot project. Milind Deora, former MoS (Communication & IT) informed the Lok Sabha in December 2012: “Development work of the system is largely completed. Pilot project has been completed by September 30, 2011 at Delhi under which C-DoT has installed two ISF servers, one each for MTNL and Tata Communications”
Post the Mumbai terror attack of 2008, the central government felt a need for securing the internet space and keeping tabs on the flow of communication. The UPA government came up with the idea of intercepting and monitoring all platforms of e-communication and C-DoT was ordered to develop a competent mechanism, subsequently laying down the foundations of CMS. In November 2009, the Rajya Sabha was told, “The government proposes to set up a centralised system to monitor communications on mobile phones, landlines and the internetin the country. The CMS is envisaged to be implemented by DoT to strengthen the security environment.” However, neither the Congress government nor the present BJP government took pains to get parliamentary sanction for the Rs 400 crore-plus project. A blind copy of the PRISM project, CMS falls short not only on the legal front but also on its premise of curtailing civil rights by infringing the right to privacy.