#India – There is a need to dismantle the UID Project, the NPR, the CMS, #Aadhaar


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India’s IT Min of State Milind Deora’s Thinks The CMS (India’s PRISM) Is “A Good Tool”

 

 

 

 

 

By  on Jun 11th, 2013  |  medianama.com

 

 
 

Milind Deora, India’s Minister of State for IT thinks that the Central Monitoring System (CMS), which is essentially India’s version of PRISM, “is a good tool” which will “ensure and protect your privacy”. On a Google Hangout last week with him, I asked Deora about the IT Act, the IT Rules, India’s Identity project (Aadhaar), and the CMS and other systems the Indian government is setting up for tracking SMS, GPRS usage, Phone Calls, Location, and what users are accessing and downloading. Please note that this was held a day before the disclosures around PRISM.

 

For those unable to view the video, Deora said that no law is perfect, there are issues with implementation, they’re open to suggestions, but above all, Deora said – bizarrely – that the CMS is being set up to safeguard our privacy from mobile operators,and protects the national security of the country. He said that with processes set up, the officer in charge will not have access to information, politicians will not get access. He did not respond to the question on India’s privacy law.

Apart from that, Deora said I’m misinformed. The context of my questions:

1. India’s IT Act, it’s Section 66a and IT Rules are draconian, the government has promised to amend them (read this), but kept deferring making any changes, despite the issue being taken up by a committee (read this) and Parliament (read thisthis and these notes on a live discussion), and a public interest litigation (read this). They’ve issued an advisory on Section 66a (read this), a clarification on the IT Rules which wasn’t enough (read this) but the law and the rules remain draconian, and susceptible to misuse. The IT Ministry has the power to change the rules, but hasn’t done it so far. In fact, like Deora in the Q&A, it has defended its rules (read this). We’ve repeatedly pointed towards the need for transparency and specificity (read this) as a solution. Despite Deora giving assurances about there being rigor in finalizing the IT Act, it was passed without debate, a knee-jerk reaction in an atmosphere of fear (read this).

One common refrain from this government (and Deora in this Q&A) has been that they’ve used wordings from international laws to draft Indian laws – that is true but misleading because it’s easy to choose selectively to remove safeguards; laws need to be looked at in their totality, not just sentence by sentence.

2. India is setting up a Central Monitoring system (read this) for tracking what we say or text over the phone, write, post or browse over the Internet, getting direct access from telecom operators and ISPs. Last year, we had reported on a home ministry tender for the same (read this). In 2011, we found a Tender Document from the Delhi Police which had details of setting up the CMS (read this)

3. The Mumbai Police has set up a social media monitoring cell, which, strangely, has been tracking torrents (read this).

5. Aadhaar, India’s not quite flawless (read this) unique identity project, created circumventing Parliament as per a Parliamentary committee (read this) will eventually link all your databases together, across government services, and what is worse, the data will be given to private companies – National Information Utilities, with 51% private ownership – read this.

6. All of this is being done before India has passed a Privacy law (read this), and even if a Privacy law does come into place, how safe do you feel, and how likely do you think the government executives, to not circumvent the law, or create loopholes that they can use?

My contention is that there is a legal and technological framework for surveillance that is being created and deployed right now without proper approval of Parliament, and without Parliamentarians in India paying adequate attention to it. Having technological infrastructure is not enough – they can and will be circumvented.

Having legal safeguards is not enough – even if laws are put into place, the government will create loopholes because they want this power (look at the IT Rules and Aadhaar). You can really rely on the government or the police to abuse the power that they give themselves (read this). What prevents the government in power from harassing individuals who challenge them (including those from opposition parties) on the basis of National Security? Where does National Security end and Government Security begin, and what do we do about a trigger-happy CERT-IN blocking dissent without any transparency?

You decide – am I misinformed, or is Milind Deora misinformed or misleading?

The Only Solution

The only solution is what the UK did with its Identity project (read this): dismantle these projects, no matter how much money has been spent on them, because the risks to civil liberties is too great. There is a need to dismantle the UID Project, the National Population Register, the Central Monitoring System, change the IT Act and IT Rules, and create a privacy law. It is also bizarre for Deora to suggest that information which the government has access to through mobile networks and ISPs will not also be available these service providers.

So, Milind, I do not agree that this monitoring should be, as you said, “the exclusive domain of the government”, because I don’t trust the law enforcement agencies, this government and the governments to follow.

We’d be happy to publish a response to this post, if you wish to clarify further.

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#India Surfers- Soon govt will know what you surfed in 24 hrs #WTFnews


Be warned: Soon govt will know what you surfed yesterday

by  May 25, 2013

A report in BusinessLine today informs us that the government wants to keep track of where you go on your internet travels, and is planning to make it compulsory for telecom and internet service providers (ISPs) to maintain detailed records of your surfing habits and proclivities.

An insecure state machinery that regularly snoops on its people is bad enough; but a police state greased by corruption and zero accountability means the privacy of ordinary citizens will be sacrificed in the cause of the powerful. Reuters

An insecure state machinery that regularly snoops on its people is bad enough; but a police state greased by corruption and zero accountability means the privacy of ordinary citizens will be sacrificed in the cause of the powerful. Reuters

Currently, mobile companies have to keep voice call data records, but in future they may have to do so even with data traffic.

An Internet Protocol Detail Record (IPDR) system, offered by may companies selling telecom gear, enables ISPs to track and store details of our net usage. If the telecom department succeeds in forcing them to keep records of everyone’s data usage patterns without putting in place a strong privacy law, anyone with access to these records can blackmail individuals.

The fact is security agencies already have the right to ask telcos and ISPs to intercept the data of people they suspect of wrongdoing. Forcing them to maintain detailed records of data usage patterns means privacy risks will soar since information will be available on anyone and everyone.

Consider the dangers:

When usage data is stored for long periods of time, every telco knows it is there and could use it to access privileged information.

When paying bribes comes so easily, the possibility that such data may be sold to criminals or blackmailers for cash is high. Once data leaks, there may be no way to trace it back to who passed the information on.

Governments can always use this information against political rivals.

It is worth recalling that the Niira Radia tapes, though legitimately tapped by the income-tax department, were leaked to the media. Even though this helped us discover the 2G scam, the fact is nobody has been held accountable for the illegal leaks in this case — even with the Supreme Court hearing the matter.

An insecure state machinery that regularly snoops on its people is bad enough; but a police state greased by corruption and zero accountability means the privacy of ordinary citizens will be sacrificed in the cause of the powerful.

 

Mumbai Police Is Checking What You’re Downloading #Privacy


By  on Apr 3rd, 2013  |  

Mumbai Police has set up a Social Media lab, along with team of cyber experts, and with the help of ISPs, is conducting random checks on content that is being downloaded from certain sites, including torrents, and especially Internet users with large data downloads, reports DNA, quoting Himanshu Roy, Joint Commissioner (Crime), Mumbai Police. As per the report, on the basis of a complaint from a copyrights holder, the police warned and let off an IT professional who was using his office computer (and we assume, connection) to download torrents. The company emailed its employees to stay off torrent sites.

Copyright owners have, in the past, got websites blocked, hired people to conduct likely-to-be-illegal DDoS attacks, and got all-encompassing John Doe Orders to get anything they want blocked.

Our Take

While it quotes a “cyber security expert” who says that the Copyright Act, the IPC or section 66 of India’s IT Act can be used in this case, it doesn’t question why the person was let off with a warning. That seems rather arbitrary, because if a complaint has been filed, surely the decision on whether to let the person go or not should be left to the Judiciary, not the Police. Or does the Police usually go warning people and letting them go after copyright owners file a complaint? The report doesn’t mention the complainant, the user, the company involved, the content being downloaded or the torrent site.

Is this tapping of citizens’ Internet connections legal? If you look at the 1996 PUCL judgment on (phone) tapping, it clearly points out:

Telephone – Tapping is a serious invasion of an individual’s privacy. With the growth of highly sophisticated
communication technology, the right to sold telephone conversation, in the privacy of one’s home or office without interference, is increasingly susceptible to abuse. It is no doubt correct that every Government, howsoever democratic, exercises some degree of subrosa operation as a part of its intelligence outfit but at the same time citizen’s right to privacy has to be protected from being abused by she authorities of the day.

The judgment states:

1. An order for telephone-tapping in terms of Section 5(2) of the Act shall not be issued except by the Home Secretary, Government of India (Central Government) and Home Secretaries of the State Governments. In an urgent case the power may be delegated to an officer of the Home Department the Government of India and the State Governments not below the rank of Joint Secretary. Copy of the order shall be sent to the Review Committee concerned with one week of the passing of the order-.2. The order shall require the person to whom it is addressed to intercept in the course of their transmission by means a public telecommunication system, such communications as are described in the order. The order may also require the person to whom it is addressed to disclose the intercepted material to such persons and in such manner as are described in the order.

The Police and their CyberCrime cells proactively scanning Internet connections certainly amounts to invasion of privacy.

Readers should also be aware that India doesn’t have a privacy law, as was pointed out by the Standing Committee that criticised the Indian government’s Unique Identity project, saying that

“In the absence of data protection legislation, it would be difficult to deal with the issues like access and misuse of personal information, surveillance, profiling, linking and matching of data bases and securing confidentiality of information etc.”

Maybe it’s time someone filed a case to prevent government organizations from snooping on its citizens, ad-hoc. If you’re not worried yet, take a look at the Home Ministry’s snooping tender that we’d written about.

FBI Pursuing Real- Time Gmail Spying Powers as “Top Priority” for 2013 #privacy


For now, law enforcement has trouble monitoring Gmail communications in real time

Image courtesy Google

Despite the pervasiveness of law enforcement surveillance of digital communication, the FBI still has a difficult time monitoring Gmail, Google Voice, and Dropbox in real time. But that may change soon, because the bureau says it has made gaining more powers to wiretap all forms of Internet conversation and cloud storage a “top priority” this year.

Last week, during a talk for the American Bar Association in Washington, D.C., FBI general counsel Andrew Weissmann discussed some of the pressing surveillance and national security issues facing the bureau. He gave a few updates on the FBI’s efforts to address what it calls the “going dark” problem—how the rise in popularity of email and social networks has stifled its ability to monitor communications as they are being transmitted. It’s no secret that under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, the feds can easily obtain archive copies of emails. When it comes to spying on emails or Gchat in real time, however, it’s a different story.

That’s because a 1994 surveillance law called the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act only allows the government to force Internet providers and phone companies to install surveillance equipment within their networks. But it doesn’t cover email, cloud services, or online chat providers like Skype. Weissmann said that the FBI wants the power to mandate real-time surveillance of everything from Dropbox and online games (“the chat feature in Scrabble”) to Gmail and Google Voice. “Those communications are being used for criminal conversations,” he said.

While it is true that CALEA can only be used to compel Internet and phone providers to build in surveillance capabilities into their networks, the feds do have some existing powers to request surveillance of other services. Authorities can use a “Title III” order under the “Wiretap Act” to ask email and online chat providers furnish the government with “technical assistance necessary to accomplish the interception.” However, the FBI claims this is not sufficient because mandating that providers help with “technical assistance” is not the same thing as forcing them to “effectuate” a wiretap. In 2011, then-FBI general counsel Valerie Caproni—Weissmann’s predecessor—stated that Title III orders did not provide the bureau with an “effective lever” to “encourage providers” to set up live surveillance quickly and efficiently. In other words, the FBI believes it doesn’t have enough power under current legislation to strong-arm companies into providing real-time wiretaps of communications.

Because Gmail is sent between a user’s computer and Google’s servers using SSL encryption, for instance, the FBI can’t intercept it as it is flowing across networks and relies on the company to provide it with access. Google spokesman Chris Gaither hinted that it is already possible for the company to set up live surveillance under some circumstances. “CALEA doesn’t apply to Gmail but an order under the Wiretap Act may,” Gaither told me in an email. “At some point we may expand our transparency report to cover this topic in more depth, but until then I’m not able to provide additional information.”

Either way, the FBI is not happy with the current arrangement and is on a crusade for more surveillance authority. According to Weissmann, the bureau is working with “members of intelligence community” to craft a proposal for new Internet spy powers as “a top priority this year.” Citing security concerns, he declined to reveal any specifics. “It’s a very hard thing to talk about publicly,” he said, though acknowledged that “it’s something that there should be a public debate about.”

 

Quashing Dissent: Where National Security and Commercial Media Converge #FOE #FOS


Vol – XLVIII No. 09, March 02, 2013 | Sukumar Muralidharan, EPW

Constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech and expression in India today, seem a distant, almost illusory promise when the politics of the street — and a loud and seriously misinformed media – are final arbiters of fundamental rights and the defence of privilege is becoming the dominant motif of state policy.

Sukumar Muralidharan (sukumar.md@gmail.com) is a freelance journalist based in New Delhi.

Between February 14 and 15, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) in the Government of India issued five separate orders to internet service providers (ISPs), blocking access to no fewer than 164 URLs or web addresses where specific content is hosted. All five were issued in seemingly unquestioning and unreserved compliance with ex parte orders emanating from courts. No reasons were given, though as things transpired, these were not very difficult to figure out.

Of the five orders, three were issued with clear intent to clamp down on protests in Kashmir after the February 9 execution of one-time militant Mohammad Afzal Guru.  Physical movement in all of Kashmir had been blocked by a pre-emptive curfew imposed early that morning. As news of the execution filtered through, local news channels and newspapers were told to suspend operations. And though the internet remained available through broadband, the more widely used modes of access in the valley — mobile telephones and wireless datacards – were disabled. The information lockdown persisted five days in the case of newspapers and an entire week for internet users. For local TV news channels, it still continues. But through the pores in this blanket of censorship, the people of Kashmir were still managing to make their anger and bitterness heard. The DoT directive, calling specifically for the shutting down of a number of pages on the social networking site “Facebook” was obviously about shutting that source of dissent.

An information blockade imposed on a region where rights to life and liberty have been in suspension might seem a lesser injustice, though it is part of the same apparatus of repression that particularly targets any possibility that an occupied people may conduct a social dialogue that reaches beyond immediate constraints of location and space. Yet for all that, there was nothing really unusual about the effort to tighten the information blockade on Kashmir, a region that has long been in a state of exception in the Indian political map, where even the pretence of guaranteed rights and entitlements does not apply. Indeed, a similar blockade on mobile telephone services had been imposed in the valley just a fortnight prior, while the rest of India was celebrating the anniversary of its republican constitution.

A second category of website blocks ordered in DoT’s most recent round of sweeping censorship, applied against the mimicking or parodying of important public institutions, such as the Bombay High Court. Few dissenting voices were raised here. If anything, there may have been some reservations about the recourse to heavy-handed censorship, where the task of sifting between the authentic and the fake, might well have been left to the judgment of the internet user , worries that the DoT action may have cast the rare visitor to these sites as an infant in need of the guiding hand of a nanny state.

The IIPM related blocks

What really raised eyebrows and triggered a war of attrition on the internet was the third category of order issued by the DoT, blocking seventy-three specific web addresses ranging over a total of fifty websites. The formal order addressed to all ISPs, began with a peremptory, “it has been decided”, much like an edict issued from a sovereign that is beyond challenge. After listing the sites to be censored, it entered a plea for secrecy, uncharacteristic for a sovereign acting with absolute authority. Letters of compliance to be filed by all those at the receiving end of the edict were not to mention the identity of the blocked URLs.

If the intent of that caution was to conceal the identity of the guiding hand behind this extraordinary measure of information denial, it did not go far. The common element in the seventy-three web addresses that were blocked was soon discovered to be the Indian Institute of Planning and Management (IIPM), an establishment with a pervasive presence in the media, despite its uncertain provenance and rather anomalous status within the landscape of higher education, where it claims to belong. Indeed, the IIPM advertising budget, the envy of most other institutions in the same category, wins it a high degree of exemption from scrutiny in the mainstream media. No such privilege though, is granted within the alternate discourse of the social media. Indeed, that is where the problem was clearly seen to lie.

Cryptic in its content and opaque in terms of its legal basis, the DoT order was traced by the small but vigorous community of free speech advocates on the internet, to emanate from an order by a court in the city of Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh. For the most part, it applied to blogs and independent initiatives by consumer groups and civil society actors to promote a dialogue on issues of public concern: such as the quality of service offered by various civic and commercial institutions. The IIPM, unsurprisingly for an institution with a high media profile, had come in for some searching scrutiny and been found wanting: several of the postings on these sites, drawing on first-hand experiences of the services (or lack of it) that it offered, were trenchant in tone and content.

It emerged soon afterwards that the Gwalior court had issued its order under provisions of the Indian Penal Code (IPC, section 499) dealing with the offence of defamation and the Information Technology Act (IT Act, section 69) which enabled government authorities to demand the blocking of certain sites by ISPs and intermediaries such as Google and Facebook. Evidence that the court had applied the tests of intent, accuracy and public interest that are thepreliminaries mandated by law before sanctions are imposed for defamation, was conspicuously lacking. And what literally leapt out in the DoT edict was the very first URL on the list, which belonged to a public institution, the University Grants Commission (UGC). In a notice issued in July 2012, ostensibly in compliance with a directive issued by the Delhi High Court in ongoing litigation, the UGC had recorded its finding that the IIPM was not a university under applicable law. It was in other words, not empowered to grant degrees in business management or any other discipline of study.

In holding the UGC liable for defamation, the Gwalior court obviously omitted any serious engagement, either with the history of litigation involving the IIPM, or with the law. Section 499 of the IPC is explicit about certain exceptions where in circumstances to be judged by the courts, the offence of defamation would not apply: these include, the “imputation of truth which public good requires to be made or mentioned,” the “public conduct of public servants” and the “conduct of any person touching any public question”. Clearly, any assessment that the UGC may have made about the academic credentials of the IIPM, when communicated to the public, would potentially fall within the scope of these exceptions. That the Gwalior court overlooked these aspects of the law points towards an egregious omission.

“Hacktivist” Response

Internet activists were quick to wreak vengeance. On Friday 16, the website of the IIPM was hacked and put out of service for a limited period of time. And under pressure from a growing chorus of outrage, the owner and executive head of the institution, Arindam Chaudhuri, took to the social network to explain his actions. The court order applied only to website content that was defamatory in an explicit sense, he pleaded. Satirical sites may have been included in an over-broad sweep of content pertaining to the IIPM, but remedies would be quickly instituted once a closer examination was made. As for the UGC and one other public institution in the education sector – the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) – Chaudhuri was scathing in his assessment: “I should say UGC and AICTE are organisations full of bribe-seeking corrupt officials where, even at the top, they have a track record of being caught red-handed and being jailed. … I suspect that UGC – at the behest of some of our petty competitors with dirty past records of filth and cheating, and public notices against them – had been deliberately spreading misleading information about IIPM to hurt its business interests and had even gone to the extent of falsely calling IIPM a fake university”.

There is much that is specious in the IIPM explanation and a great deal that the judiciary has to explain about its manifestly perverse order. Within days of the DoT implementing its blocking order, the Department of Information Technology (DIT) – a partner department under the Ministry of Communications – resolved on appealing it at the appropriate judicial forum. That may well have been too little too late. As the senior advocate and legal scholar Rajeev Dhavan has pointed out, in all such matters “the real mischief takes place right at the beginning … when injunctions are freely granted to prevent the publication or dissemination of an existing or proposed publication”.

The IIPM is a practised hand in censorship through legal injunction. In June 2011, it filed suit against Caravan, a monthly magazine of political and cultural commentary, for the sum of Rs 50 crore (INR 500 million), after the magazine had in its February 2011 issue, featured an article titled “Sweet Smell of Success: How Arindam Chaudhuri Made a Fortune Off the Aspirations — and Insecurities — of India’s Middle Classes”. The article was a substantive pre-publication excerpt from a book by U.S.-based journalist Siddhartha Deb, due for publication in July 2011. The IIPM lawsuit named the author, the publisher Penguin Books (India) and the internet search portal Google (India) as respondents, other than Caravan, accusing them of “grave harrassment and injury”. The lawsuit was filed not in Delhi, where both the IIPM and Caravan are based, but in Silchar town in the north-eastern state of Assam. IIPM was the second petitioner, the first being a Silchar businessman known to be associated with the institute as a recruiter.

At the first hearing of the case, the civil court in Silchar granted the IIPM a preliminary injunction, enjoining Caravan to remove the impugned article from its website. This decree was issued ex parte, without any pre-hearing notice to the magazine. The article was since taken off the Caravan magazine website, though it has been retained in the Internet Archive. In the most recent round of court-ordained censorship, the magazine’s July 2011 announcement that it intended to fight the injunction was blocked, but then republished under a different URL.

In October 1972, India’s Supreme Court heard a case brought by Bennett Coleman and Company Ltd (BCCL), publishers of the Times of India – and a number of other large newspaper enterprises – challenging a newsprint rationing order introduced to deal with a situation of acute scarcity. The official plea entered on behalf of the rationing was that the larger newspaper groups would, if allowed unfettered access to the market, buy up all the supplies available, depriving smaller players – and with this, large sections of the Indian population – of the means to speak and be informed. The judgment in the case of Bennett Coleman and Co Ltd v Union of India is one of historic significance, since it remains the most authoritative statement yet, on how the constitutional guarantees of free speech devolve into the narrower construct of media freedom. Yet this is a judgment that remains strangely inconclusive, since in addressing the issue of the free speech right, the majority opinion of the Court seemed to oscillate rather indecisively, between a notion of free speech as a privilege enjoyed by the few, and a broader conception of the unreserved exercise of the right by all.

In deciding the case, Justice A.N. Ray spoke for the majority and observed that the “individual rights of freedom of speech and expression of editors, directors and shareholders, are all expressed through their newspapers”.  But then a few pages on, the majority opinion effectively widened the ambit of the right: “It is indisputable that by freedom of the press is meant the right of all citizens to speak, publish and express their views. The freedom of the press embodies the right of the people to read. The freedom of the press is not antithetical to the right of the people to speak and express”.

Having elevated media freedom to a higher plane and rendered it into an entitlement enjoyed by all citizens, the majority in the Bennett Coleman case had little difficulty striking down newsprint rationing as a violation of article 19 guarantees on free speech. The rest of the majority judgment in the matter clung very closely to the liberal orthodoxy on the right to free speech: that governmental regulation is an evil more invidious than private monopolies. When it looked at the prospect of “monopolistic combination” in the press, it was only to rule it out. And even if the likelihood did arise, newsprint allocation could not be a feasible “measure to combat monopolies”.

Of special significance in this context is the lone dissenting judgment delivered from a bench of five judges, by Justice K.K. Mathew, who explicitly conceded the possibility of a conflict between the public interest and the profit motivations of the press. Using a “theory of the freedom of speech” that essentially viewed it in terms of twin entitlements — to speak and be informed – Justice Mathew observed that “the distribution of newsprint for maintenance of (newspaper) circulation at its highest possible level .. (would).. only advance and enrich that freedom”. As a constitutional principle, “freedom of the press” was “no higher than the freedom of speech of a citizen”. The problem at hand was one of bringing “all ideas into the market (to) make the freedom of speech a live one having its roots in reality”. In pursuit of this ideal, it was necessary as a first step, to recognise “that the right of expression is somewhat thin if it can be exercised only on the sufferance of the managers of the leading newspapers”.

Freedom of expression in other words, also involved the right of access to media space. And this requirement would be met only through the “creation of new opportunities for expression or greater opportunities to small and medium dailies to reach a position of equality with the big ones”. This was as important, in Justice Mathew’s judgment, “as the right to express ideas without fear of governmental restraint”. What was required was an interpretation of the free speech right which recognised that “restraining the hand of the government is quite useless in assuring free speech, if a restraint on access is effectively secured by private groups”.

Indian Media – An Echo Chamber for the elite

For all the appearances of growth and diversification that it presents, there is increasing worry that the Indian media with its advertisement-driven revenue model is becoming an echo chamber where those with economic clout and purchasing power talk among themselves, leaving out the voices of the vast majority. Citizens who happen to inhabit the zones of exception, such as Kashmir and he north-east, are excluded from participation by virtue of their infirm commitment to what is by elite consensus, deemed the “mainstream” ethos of Indian nationalism. And the socially and economically disadvantaged in other parts, are inconsequential because they are of no interest to the advertiser who sustains the media industry bottomline.

In this context, the growing number of social media users offers a potent challenge to the hegemonic narrative that emanates from the mainstream media. The most articulate voices here emerge from the top two or three percentiles of the population, who have access to the estimated 14 million broadband internet connections. But within this narrow stratum, there is already more dissent against the news priorities and editorial policies of the mainstream media, which in terms of reach addresses a multiple – though not a very large multiple – of broadband users.

More worrying for those who believe media freedom is a great idea as long as a few wise men control the message, is the rapid growth of internet and social media users through the mobile phone network. This is a growing constituency in Kashmir, the north-east and indeed, in several regions of the most bitter political contestation in India: territories where the promise of the minority judgment in the Bennett Coleman case is actually being sought, that media freedom is not just a right to be exercised on “sufferance” of those who own newspapers or the airwaves, but a right that all citizens have to speak and be heard, even beyond limitations of location and space.

There is a long history of repression of this manner of free speech, but few instances where sanctions have been imposed on speech that meets every authentic criterion of “hate”. This is unsurprising, since this category of speech usually emanates in the Indian context, from Hindutva and other such supposedly “mainstream” participants in the national consensus. The February crackdown on websites is probably just a minor punctuation mark in the long-term evolution of the doctrine of “legitimate” repression of basic rights, when exceptions to the rule of free speech could be decreed. It is nonetheless, a point at which some clarity is imparted. Constitutional guarantees seem a distant, almost illusory promise when the politics of the street — and a loud and seriously misinformed media – are final arbiters of fundamental rights and the defence of privilege is becoming the dominant motif of state policy. This most recent information blockade targets political dissent from the fringes of “mainstream” nationalism and also a prospective challenge to the commercial calculus of the “mainstream” media.  It shows how close the convergence is, between the propaganda needs of the national security state and the commercial compulsions of the mainstream media. Finally though, what is most apparent about this new effort at controlling the message is its utter futility, since the avenues through which people can speak and be heard are multiplying in such diverse ways, that information repression no longer is an option for states anxious to preserve control.

Indian net service providers too play #censorship tricks


freedom_of_speech

T. Ramachandran,KOCHI, February 9, 2013

The study by a Canadian university has found that some major Indian ISPs have deployed web-censorship and filtering technology.

Your internet service provider (ISP) could be blocking some content. A study conducted by a Canadian university has found that some major Indian ISPs have deployed web-censorship and filtering technology widely used in China and some West Asian countries.

The findings, published on January 15, were the result of a search for censorship software and hardware on public networks like those operated by ISPs.

A research team at Citizen Lab, an interdisciplinary laboratory based at the Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto, found a software-hardware combo package called PacketShaper being used in many parts of the world, including India.

The study identified the presence of four PacketShaper installations on the networks of three major ISPs in India during the period of study in late 2012. These ISPs had been earlier “implicated in filtering to some degree,” the report said.

The deployment of such traffic management technologies by ISPs could threaten privacy, freedom of expression and competition, said Sunil Abraham, Executive Director of the Bangalore-based NGO, Centre for Internet and Society.

He said tools like PacketShaper could be used by ISPs for two types of censorship —“to block entire websites or choke traffic on certain services or destinations in a highly granular fashion.”

The U.S.-based producers of the technology, Blue Coat Systems, are quite open about the product features on the company’s website. They say it could be used to control and weed out undesirable content. It could also be used to slow down or speed up the operation of programmes and content flow to achieve the goals set by the operators of the networks.

Transparency is the key

Technology experts said such products could be used to exercise legitimate control over the internet traffic and prioritise the use of bandwidth and resources, if used ethically.

“If done in a transparent manner that does not discriminate against different actors within a class it does benefit the collective interest of the ISP’s clients. However, it could also be used to engage in hidden censorship against legitimate speech and also for anti-competitive behaviour,” said Mr. Abraham.

The study focussed on countries where concerns exist over “compliance with international human rights law, legal due process, freedom of speech, surveillance, and censorship.”

Online #censorship: How government should approach regulation of speech


2 Dec, 2012, 06.21AM IST,  ET

If the government’s answer to ‘bad’ online content is more censorship, more surveillance and more regulation, then they are doing it wrong.

If the government’s answer to ‘bad’ online content is more censorship, more surveillance and more regulation, then they are doing it wrong.
Why is there a constant brouhaha in India about online censorship? What must be done to address this?Of course, we must get the basics right — bad law has to be amended, read down by courts or repealed, and bad implementation of law should be addressed via reform and capacity building for the police. But most importantly those in power must understand how to approach the regulation of speech.To begin with, speech is regulated across the world. Even in the US — contrary to popular impression in India — speech is regulated both online and offline.

However, law is not the basis of most of this regulation. Speech is largely regulated by social norms. Different corners of our online and offline society have quite complex forms of self-regulation.

The harm caused by speech is often proportionate to the power of the person speaking — it maybe unacceptable for a politician or a filmstar to make an inflammatory remark but that very same utterance from an ordinary citizen may be totally fine.

To complicate matters, the very same speech by the very same person could be harmful or harmless based on context. A newspaper editor may share obscene jokes with friends in a bar, but may not take similar liberties in an editorial.

The legal scholar Alan Dershowitz tells us, “The best answer to bad speech is good speech.” More recently the quote has been amended, with “more speech” replacing “good speech”.

Censorship by the state has to be reserved for the rarest of rare circumstances. This is because censorship usually results in unintended consequences.

The “Streisand Effect”, named after the singer-actor Barbra Streisand, is one of these consequences wherein attempts to hide or censor information only result in wider circulation and greater publicity.

The Maharashtra police’s attempt to censor the voices of two women has resulted in their speech being broadcast across the nation on social and mainstream media. If the state had instead focused on producing good speech and more speech, nobody would have even heard of these women.

Circumventing Censorship

Peer-to-peer technologies on the internet mimic the topology of human networks and can also precipitate unintended consequences when subject to regulation. John Gilmore, a respected free software developer, puts it succinctly: “The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.”

Most of the internet censorship in the US is due to IPR-enforcement activities. This is why Christopher Soghoian, a leading privacy activist, attributes the massive adoption of privacy-enhancing technologies such as proxies and VPNs (virtual private networks) by American consumers to the crackdown on online piracy.

n India, and even when the government has had legitimate reasons to regulate speech, there have been unintended consequences.During the exodus of people from the North-east, the five SMS per day restriction imposed by the government resulted in another exodus from SMS to alternative messaging platforms such as BlackBerry Messenger (BBM), WhatsApp and Twitter.In both cases the circumvention of censorship by the users has resulted in a worsening situation for law-enforcement organisations — VPNs and applications like WhatsApp are much more difficult to monitor and regulate.

Mixed Memes

Regulation of speech also cannot be confused with cyber war or security. Speech can occasionally have security implications but that cannot be the basis for enlightened regulation.

A cyber war expert may be tempted to think of censored content as weapons, but unlike weapons that usually remain lethal, content that can cause harm today may become completely harmless tomorrow. This is unlike a computer virus or malware. For example, during the exodus, the online edition of ET featured the complete list of 309 URLs that were in the four block orders issued by the government to ISPs.

However, this did not result in fresh harm, demonstrating the fallacy of cyber war analogies. A cyber security expert, on the other hand, may be tempted to implement a 360° blanket surveillance to regulate speech, but as Gilmore again puts it, “If you’re watching everybody, you’re watching nobody.”

In short, if your answer to bad speech is more censorship, more surveillance and more regulation, then as the internet meme goes, “You’re Doing It Wrong”.

(The writer is executive director, Centre for Internet and Society, Bangalore)

 

Leak reveals EU’s plans for Large-Scale Surveillance of Communications


21 September, 2012

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This article is also available in:
Deutsch: CleanIT – Pläne zur Überwachung des Internets im großen Stil 

A leaked document from the CleanIT project shows just how far internal discussions in that initiative have drifted away from its publicly stated aims, as well as the most fundamental legal rules that underpin European democracy and the rule of law.

The European Commission-funded CleanIT project claims that it wants to fight terrorism through voluntary self-regulatory measures that defends the rule of law.

The initial meetings of the initiative, with their directionless and ill-informed discussions about doing “something” to solve unidentified online “terrorist” problems were mainly attended by filtering companies, who saw an interesting business opportunity. Their work has paid off, with numerous proposals for filtering by companies and governments, proposals for liability in case sufficiently intrusive filtering is not used, and calls for increased funding by governments of new filtering technologies.

The leaked document contradicts a letter sent from CleanIT Coordinator But Klaasen to Dutch NGO Bits of Freedom in April of this year, which explained that the project would first identify problems before making policy proposals. The promise to defend the rule of law has been abandoned. There appears never to have been a plan to identify a specific problem to be solved – instead the initiative has become little more than a protection racket (use filtering or be held liable for terrorist offences) for the online security industry.

The proposals urge Internet companies to ban unwelcome activity through their terms of service, but advise that these “should not be very detailed”. This already widespread approach results, for example, in Microsoft (as a wholly typical example of current industry practice) having terms of service that would ban pictures of the always trouserless Donald Duck as potential pornography (“depicts nudity of any sort … in non-human forms such as cartoons”). The leaked paper also contradicts the assertion in the letter that the project “does not aim to restrict behaviour that is not forbidden by law” – the whole point of prohibiting content in terms of service that is theoretically prohibited by law, is to permit extra-judicial vigilantism by private companies, otherwise the democratically justified law would be enough. Worse, the only way for a company to be sure of banning everything that is banned by law, is to use terms that are more broad, less well defined and less predictable than real law.

Moving still further into the realm of the absurd, the leaked document proposes the use of terms of service to remove content “which is fully legal”… although this is up to the “ethical or business” priorities of the company in question what they remove. In other words, if Donald Duck is displeasing to the police, they would welcome, but don’t explicitly demand, ISPs banning his behaviour in their terms of service. Cooperative ISPs would then be rewarded by being prioritised in state-funded calls for tender.

CleanIT (terrorism), financed by DG Home Affairs of the European Commission is duplicating much of the work of the CEO Coalition (child protection), which is financed by DG Communications Networks of the European Commission. Both are, independently and without coordination, developing policies on issues such as reporting buttons and flagging of possibly illegal material. Both CleanIT and the CEO Coalition are duplicating each other’s work on creating “voluntary” rules for notification and removal of possibly illegal content and are jointly duplicating the evidence-based policy work being done by DG Internal Market of the European Commission, which recently completed a consultation on this subject. Both have also been discussing upload filtering, to monitor all content being put online by European citizens.

CleanIT wants binding engagements from internet companies to carry out surveillance, to block and to filter (albeit only at “end user” – meaning local network – level). It wants a network of trusted online informants and, contrary to everything that they have ever said, they also want new, stricter legislation from Member States.

Unsurprisingly, in EDRi‘s discussions with both law enforcement agencies and industry about CleanIT, the word that appears with most frequency is “incompetence”.

The document linked below is distributed to participants on a “need to know” basis – we are sharing the document because citizens need to know what is being proposed.

Key measures being proposed:

  • Removal of any legislation preventing filtering/surveillance of employees’ Internet connections
  • Law enforcement authorities should be able to have content removed “without following the more labour-intensive and formal procedures for ‘notice and action’”
  • “Knowingly” providing links to “terrorist content” (the draft does not refer to content which has been ruled to be illegal by a court, but undefined “terrorist content” in general) will be an offence “just like” the terrorist
  • Legal underpinning of “real name” rules to prevent anonymous use of online services
  • ISPs to be held liable for not making “reasonable” efforts to use technological surveillance to identify (undefined) “terrorist” use of the Internet
  • Companies providing end-user filtering systems and their customers should be liable for failing to report “illegal” activity identified by the filter
  • Customers should also be held liable for “knowingly” sending a report of content which is not illegal
  • Governments should use the helpfulness of ISPs as a criterion for awarding public contracts
  • The proposal on blocking lists contradict each other, on the one hand providing comprehensive details for each piece of illegal content and judicial references, but then saying that the owner can appeal (although if there was already a judicial ruling, the legal process would already have been at an end) and that filtering such be based on the “output” of the proposed content regulation body, the “European Advisory Foundation”
  • Blocking or “warning” systems should be implemented by social media platforms – somehow it will be both illegal to provide (undefined) “Internet services” to “terrorist persons” and legal to knowingly provide access to illegal content, while “warning” the end-user that they are accessing illegal content
  • The anonymity of individuals reporting (possibly) illegal content must be preserved… yet their IP address must be logged to permit them to be prosecuted if it is suspected that they are reporting legal content deliberately and to permit reliable informants’ reports to be processed more quickly
  • Companies should implement upload filters to monitor uploaded content to make sure that content that is removed – or content that is similar to what is removed – is not re-uploaded
  • It proposes that content should not be removed in all cases but “blocked” (i.e. make inaccessible by the hosting provider – not “blocked” in the access provider sense) and, in other cases, left available online but with the domain name removed.

Leaked document: http://www.edri.org/files/cleanIT_sept2012.pdf

CleanIT Project website: http://www.cleanitproject.eu/

Microsoft “code of conduct”: http://windows.microsoft.com/is-IS/windows-live/code-of-conduct

CleanIT’s letter to Bits of Freedom about “factual inaccuracies” and their unfulfilled promise to produce a problem definition: http://95.211.138.23/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/20120106-Reaction-blog…

EDRigram article 29 August: http://edri.org/edrigram/number10.16/cleanit-safer-internet-for-terror…

EDRigram article 20 June: http://edri.org/edrigram/number10.12/the-rise-of-the-european-upload-f…

Internet blocks, freedom of expression and reasonable restrictions


 

Nikhil Pahwa, of  http://www.medianama.com/ writes on FB
Four points I made yesterday at the FICCI organized meeting with the IT Secretary R. Chandrashekhar and CERT-in Head Gulshan Rai on IT Rules, Internet blocks, freedom of expression and reasonable restrictions  (from my scribbled notes):
1. I’m concerned about the broad phrases included in the IT Rules which make illegi

timate censorship of content on the web legitimate, and bring in the scope for unreasonable restrictions. There needs to be specificity in the IT Rules and the broad phrases which allow intermediariesto block content on the web need to be changed/revisited because they create the medium for abuse of the rules as and when the government/a regulator wants.2. Lack of transparency leads to lack of trust. People need to know what has been blocked, why it has been blocked, who has taken the decision to block it, and what is the process of getting the block removed (if it is my page). When citizens visit a blocked page, there should be all of this information for that specific page. Transparency will ensure accountability. (In my haste, a point I’ve made before but forgot to make here – there needs to be a public list of blocked sites maintained by the government).

3. Recourse needs to be established. If my page is blocked, there needs to be adequate protection for me, as a creator of content, a citizen and a business. It’s not possible for me to go to court in each instance, to get a block removed. Let the complainant go to court to validate his complaint within a specified time period, for which the block remains active. If not, the block should be removed. (Someone also mentioned a counter notice mechanism, which I think is fair).

4. Limitations need to be put on the actions of intermediaries when it comes to blocking. The state’s job is to not just prevent malicious content, but also to protect the rights of citizens, in terms of freedom of expression. After Anonymous India hacked into the servers of one intermediary (ISP/Telco), it was revealed that several of the links blocked had not been mandated by courts or the government, but were those critical of the intermediary. This means that ISPs are themselves potentially curtailing freedom of expression online, and this needs to be looked into.

One of the key points I remember being made was about the government also sticking to the rules, because it appears that in the recent blocks, they haven’t followed due process, even though Mr Rai repeatedly claimed that they have, (alarmingly) even with respect to the blocking of some media reports like that on Al Jazeera.

 

Who ordered Vimeo to be blocked? Not DoT, says RTI reply #censorship


Deutsch: Logo des Videoportals Vimeo

Published: Wednesday, Jun 13, 2012, 11:18 IST
By Subir Ghosh | Place: Bangalore | Agency: DNA

The ire of hacktivist group Anonymous that was directed at the government over blocking of sites like vimeo.com and Pirate Bay may not have been justified – the ban on these sites, in fact, was not ordered by the Department of Telecommunications.

In response to a RTI query made by the Delhi-based Software Freedom Law Centre (SFLC), the department replied, “As per available information no blocking instruction to block websites like Pirate-bay and Vimeo etc. has been issued by the Department of Telecommunications to Internet Service Providers (sic).”
The revelation by the department assumes significance since most of the anger of groups like Anonymous had been directed against it, particularly over these two sites.

On June 9, countrywide protests were organised by Anonymous. Dressed in black and wearing Guy Fawkes masks, about 100 people staged a demonstration at the city’s Azad Maidan in protest against the Union government’s internet policies. The Indian wing of the group was created in the backdrop of the recent outrage over the IT Act Intermediaries Rules and blocking of sites.

SFLC itself does not want to hazard a guess on who ordered the blocks, but falls back on reports to conjecture that these might have been carried out by ISPs to comply with interim injunctions styled as John Doe orders issued by the Chennai High Court in response to a suit filed by producers of the Tamil film ‘3’, arguably better known for its chartbuster ‘Kolaveri’.

SFLC counsel Prasanth Sugathan said it did not matter so much who had handed out the orders. “It is the issues raised that are important. One should not lose sight of core issues (that of internet freedom),” he said. SFLC, among other things, works towards protecting digital freedoms.

Vimeo.com, Pirate Bay and a other sites continue to be blocked across many ISPs for over a month now. According to SFLC, the error message shown on trying to access the blocked sites on the Airtel network was, “This website/URL has been blocked until further notice either pursuant to Court orders or on the Directions issued by the Department of Tellecommunciations

Read more here

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