How The Indian Government's 'Central Monitoring System' Makes The NSA Look Like A Paragon Of Restraint

from the it-could-be-worse dept

Glyn Moody covered the roll out of India’s intrusive surveillance system a couple of months ago, but more information has come out, filling in the details of the country’s breathtaking domestic spy network. If the NSA’s surveillance capabilities make the Stasi’s spying seem completely underwhelming, the Indian government’s efforts in the same arena threatens to make our men and women at the NSA look as if they’re just not applying themselves.

The NSA, as revealed in media reports earlier this month, has been monitoring phone-call metadata (such as phone numbers and call durations) on a widespread basis for years, but has to get the approval of a (albeit secret) court to spy on the calls themselves or the content of emails. The CMS [Centralized Monitoring System], by contrast, will give nine Indian government agencies—including the tax department—the power to access, in real-time, phone conversations, video conferences, text messages, emails, and even internet search data and social media activity…

If that’s not enough to make the NSA’s staunchest supporters begin fantasizing about setting the Constitution ablaze using the Bill of Rights as kindling, it gets even better/worse, depending on your point of view.

[The agencies] will work without any independent oversight, Reuters reports [and] the agencies can start monitoring targets without the approval of the courts or the parliament.

We get the impression here that the NSA works without oversight, but many have rushed to point out that Congress is (supposedly) watching the watchers and all requests must receive FISA court approval, something that seems about as difficult to obtain as a “Participant” ribbon. India is simply being more efficient and cutting out the brief “makin’ it legal” stops on the way to the domestic data harvest.

The CMS has it easy. No privacy laws to break. A system that is its own rubber stamp. But it goes even further. Someone must have wondered aloud during the formation of the CMS, “It’s almost too easy. But is it too easy enough?”

Moreover, with the CMS, security agencies won’t need to request users’ information from telcos. They’ll be able to get it directly, using existing interception systems that are built into telecom and data-service networks. According to the Hindu newspaper, the system will have dedicated servers and extensive data-mining capabilities that can be used for surveillance.

Much like the 9/11 attacks led to an unprecedented increase in domestic (and worldwide) surveillance by US security agencies, the Mumbai attacks of 2008 resulted in changes to existing laws that allowed the Indian government to increase the size (and depth) of its surveillance net. Additional attacks in 2011 prompted another rewrite and expansion. Again, much like in the US, the terms “safety” and “security” are thrown around to justify the existence and actions of the CMS.

Finally, much like the US, government officials have taken care to point out the supposed “oversight” CMS falls under, and it’s every bit as weak as the arguments used by the NSA’s defenders.

The government has so far played down fears of abuse. Senior government officials told the Times of India that since “CMS will involve an online system for filing and processing of all lawful interception requests, an electronic audit trail will be in place for each phone number put under surveillance.” And who will audit the audit trail? The same ministry that authorizes the surveillance requests. Hardly a reassuring safeguard.

Oversight doesn’t really mean anything if no one’s interested in questioning actions or curbing excesses. Making sure the foxes guarding the national hen house answer to a different fox does very little to improve the hens’ existence, and even less to deter the predatory nature of their “guardians.”

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Comments on “How The Indian Government's 'Central Monitoring System' Makes The NSA Look Like A Paragon Of Restraint”

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21 Comments
el_segfaulto (profile) says:

Do you want the terrorists to win? They’re everywhere, and they despise us for our freedoms and whatnot. I can’t walk down the damned street without getting 3 Jihads and a Fatwa placed on my head. If anything the NSA is showing far too much restraint. I propose that we will not secure until every home is equipped with televisions capable of showing agents what’s going on in the homes of every American.

To truly combat terrorism we must also combat our own language. English is far too nimble of a language, it enables us to form abstract thought and frame our worldview in whichever context we feel is right at the time. I believe a new language is in order…a new way of speaking. With this Newspeak (I like that!) it will be impossible to form unpatriotic thoughts, thus removing the shackles of ethics from our government, allowing them to finally decimate Eastasia, with whom we’ve always been at war.

RyanNerd (profile) says:

Poonam Prikshit

Poonam had been training at an Indian call center and his boss says to him:
Poonam you’ve done really well. Before I can put you out on the floor you have one test left. You need to use the words Yellow, Pink and Green in a sentence.
Poonam said: The phone goes green, green, green. I pink it up and I say yellow this is Poonam.
Poonam now works full time at the call center.

Anonymous Coward says:

Technically Feasable?

Whenever I read about one of these programs, such as at the NSA or in India, I cant help but wonder if they’re full of shit.

Collecting all of that data would require massive amounts of storage, its bulky, expensive, and technically challenging.

Next, there is a vast difference between collecting all of that data, and then actually being able to analyze it in a meaningful way. Even with just metadata, but especially with full conversations, video, social media etc, constructing a heuristic analysis program would be a daunting challenge.

Which brings me to the conclusion that if the data is impossible to analyze, and difficult to collect in the first place, any conclusions drawn from it are likely to be entirely fiction.

With such a domestic spying program, a government could persecute anyone it didn’t like, based upon entirely fictitious evidence, along with enough technical jargon to ensure nobody would be able to question it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Technically Feasable?

Exactly,

Now I hate to raise conspiracy theories, but I cant help but wonder if this ‘leak’ by Snowden was somehow crafted to lend an air of legitimacy to an otherwise ridiculous spying program.

If you told somebody about the NSA’s program a few years back, they probably wouldn’t believe you, but today, after this leak, everybody is afraid.

It doesn’t really matter if people are being watched or not, all that matters is if they think they are. Once you have that you can make up any story you like about anyone, and it will be believed.

The few smart enough to know whats really going on either get recruited by the government, or they disappear… just like in the USSR, and just like 1984.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Technically Feasable?

If you told somebody about the NSA’s program a few years back, they probably wouldn’t believe you, but today, after this leak, everybody is afraid.

Yes. In fact, we have been told, quite a few years ago, about a number of programs that are even more egregious than these. And most people didn’t really believe.

It doesn’t really matter if people are being watched or not, all that matters is if they think they are

This was the main lesson taught to us by the Stasi. Yes, Stasi surveillance was widespread (although not nearly as all-encompassing as what the NSA, FBI, etc. are doing), but the perception of it by the populace was that it was even more pervasive than it actually was.

This leads to massive self-censorship. Mission accomplished.

Anonymous Coward says:

the real question to ask is how many terrorist attacks, and i mean what would have been serious terrorist attacks, not someone knocking over a fire hydrant! have actually been stopped? then ask how many hard core terrorists have been caught, tried, and proven guilty (unlike the entertainment industries trials of guilty unless able to afford to prove innocence!) in a court of law (not in a USA kangaroo court!) then sentenced? lastly, how many lives have really been saved by the actions taken from all the surveillance that has been going on? i hazard a guess at none! all the time, the expense and whatever have really proven pointless! when there has been information that meant something, that meant further investigation, nothing happened! Boston is an example of this. the attack still happened and there were still fatalities that should never have happened and the surveillance was going on! what a shambles!!

Guardian says:

so here we go hte USA propoganda abou thow nice they are cause....everyone is worse then us shit

how about all you sacks a shit spying peeping tom like creeps just get on a raft and we nuke you…as a crime against humanity….no really the universe would be so better off without all this paranoid self deluded idiots running around

cp singh (profile) says:

Indian System is Overrated

I am an Indian and can definitely say that the report here is exaggerated. Being in the computer software industry here I can vouch that CMS is like science fiction novel.

India’s premier investigative agency NIA is primitive and uses gmail for official communication. My friend is a journalist who helped one of Indian intelligence agencies see what Google is – right, he dint know what Google is.

Indian bureacrats get their jobs after clearing an exam after graduation. Their association with education ends after that. Even if Indian government gets such a system designed by an MNC, they dont have people who will be able to use it efficiently.

It is because of our reservation policy. For every 10 spies required, 5 will have to be SC, 2 have to be OBC and 1 tribal. So you have 2 general catagory people who will get the honorable spook job. They will get frustrated early and leave. The rest will be too uneducated to bother.

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