According to Delhi’s police, the
Lashkar-e-Taiba militants responsible for the Red Fort attack were using
electronic mail to receive instructions from abroad. Since they were not
able to intercept and decipher these messages, our security agencies
reiterated their long-standing demand that India’s entire e-mail traffic
should be monitored at the servers of internet service providers (ISPs).
They cited the instance when a member of Harkat Al Ansar, Khalid Ibrahim,
tried to obtain classified information about India’s nuclear programme
immediately after the Pokhran-II blasts. He used several Hotmail accounts
from numerous cybercafés, but could be detected only because Videsh
Sanchar Nigam (VSNL) was India’s sole ISP then, and the IP addresses
allocated to him could be correlated. Today, he would be able to avoid
detection because there are over 300 ISPs in India. Moreover, he can now
use strong-encryption email services like HushMail and ZipLip, which
cannot be decrypted easily even by USA’s National Security Agency.
Intercepting emails of suspected
terrorists and criminals, without infringing on fundamental rights of
law-abiding citizens, is problematical. Several so-called democracies
recently passed laws which grant them sweeping powers to intercept emails
of large sections of their populace. Their security agencies are worried
about USA’s lifting of export controls on strong cryptographic
programmes; the ready availability of Freenet as well as of the
cryptographic algorithms Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) and
Rivest-Shamir-Adelman (RSA); and the emergence of free email services
using strong cryptography such as HushMail and ZipLip.
A proponent of individual liberty,
23-year old Ian Clarke, recently developed Freenet for his undergraduate
thesis at the University of Edinburgh. He has already distributed 35,000
copies worldwide, free of charge. Clarke explained: “I developed Freenet
so that people under oppressive regimes can describe their plight without
retribution. Freenet provides complete anonymity and confidentiality both
for those transmitting information and those reading it. It is virtually
impossible for anyone to destroy or forcibly remove a particular piece of
information, or find out who is reading it, or who wrote it in the first
place, making censorship impossible.”
Keith Akerman, Britain's chief police
officer handling computer crimes, attacked Clarke: “Freenet will be
misused by criminals, terrorists and pedophiles, with no risk of getting
caught. While I'm all for freedom of speech, Freenet will severely impede
our ability to investigate crimes.”
Governments are attempting both
technological and legal measures to counter the likes of Freenet, HushMail,
and ZipLip. Australia recently passed the Telecommunications
(Interception) Legislation Amendment Act which grants the Australian
Security Intelligence Organization and other law enforcement agencies
“the power to order internet service providers, telecommunications
service providers, computer hardware and software vendors, and
telecommunications equipment vendors to provide all possible assistance in
order to gain access to any remote or networked computer if there are
reasonable grounds for believing that data held in the target computer
will substantially assist the collection of intelligence important to
national security.” ASIO and other security agencies are “permitted to
copy, add, delete or alter any data in the target computer that is
relevant to the security matter” and will not be subject to the
Australian Crimes Act, which forbids computer hacking.
Britain’s Parliament passed the
Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, which forces ISPs to
provide complete information about all their subscribers to security
their cost, all ISPs are required to install surveillance equipment
which is hardwired to MI5, Britain’s intelligence agency. This permits
MI5 to monitor, in real-time, each and every email, website
visited, and banking and e-commerce transaction. Subscribers who refuse to
reveal their encryption keys face a two-year jail sentence.
A few months ago it was discovered
that USA’s Federal Bureau of Investigation had been covertly using a
surveillance system named Carnivore. It is rack-mounted at the ISP’s
server and uses a high-speed
packet sniffer which intercepts and records every single e-mail
message. Even though FBI claimed that it would use Carnivore only against
specific persons after obtaining judicial warrants, it was found that
Carnivore actually recorded every email of each subscriber of the ISP. US
ISPs complied with FBI’s orders to install Carnivore and did not inform
their subscribers that all their emails were being recorded.
Our security agencies have been
insisting that India enact laws similar to those of Britain and Australia.
In the Information Technology Bill, they had introduced clause 73 which
would have required cybercafés to maintain lists of all websites that
their customers visited. However, in May 2000, MPs across the political
spectrum assailed this clause as a violation of fundamental rights, and
both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha rejected this attempt to turn India
into a police state. In addition to being a violation of fundamental
rights, clause 73 would have been unenforceable, being akin to requiring
every public phone booth to maintain a register of all callers, called
parties, and transcripts of entire conversations.
Undeterred by the defeat in
Parliament, our security agencies then drafted several provisions in the
“Guidelines For Setting Up Of
Submarine Cable Landing Stations For International Gateways For Internet”
issued by the Department of Telecommunications in August 2000, which did
not require parliamentary approval. Among them are the following:
On-line and off-line (capture, store and retrieve) monitoring of all
classes of traffic (Internet, video, audio etc.) specified by various
attributes viz. destination, recipient, sender, key words etc.
Agencies authorized by the Government should be able to monitor all types
of traffic passed through the landing terminals, including data, FAX,
speech, video and Multimedia etc., both in interactive and non-interactive
The monitoring should be possible on the basis of key words/key
expressions/addresses (IP address or e-mail address) of initiating or
It should be possible to scan through entire traffic passing through the
gateway and filter the traffic as per the key words/key expressions and
addresses defined by the security agencies. Filtered traffic should be
stored in the memory/directory provided for the security agencies…The
filtered information must be decoded and stored in such a way that direct
hard copy of FAX and data or audio/video tapes of the speech/video
recording could be produced…
It should be possible to monitor the same traffic by more than one
security agency simultaneously. However, no agency should know the traffic
being monitored by other agencies.
The ISP licensee shall make available all the billing details of any
subscriber on demand by Telecom Authority.
The ISP licensee shall block Internet sites and individual subscribers, as
identified by Telecom Authority.
While India certainly is a target of
several terrorist organizations, such clauses are a violation of
fundamental rights since they demand that every incoming and outgoing
message of every internet user located in India should be intercepted and
recorded permanently. Keeping in view the guidelines issued a few years
ago by the Supreme Court regarding phone tapping, Draconian measures such
as these should be permitted only against a specific person and only after
obtaining a warrant from a High Court judge.
VSNL recently blocked the emails of a
prominent scholar of Middle Eastern affairs, Seema Kazi of Delhi. When she
discovered that she was under surveillance and complained to VSNL, a
senior official told her that Muslims indulged in anti-national activities
and had contacts with Pakistan. VSNL said that they had received
complaints that she was a security risk but refused to provide her
In addition to the human rights
aspect, India’s emergence as a global power in information technology
and electronic commerce would be seriously jeopardized by the impractical
and costly measures proposed by our security agencies. To record every
incoming and outgoing email and website visited by each Indian resident,
each landing station would have to install about a million 20-gigabyte
hard disks every day, each of which costs about Rs 8,000. It is obvious
why no ISP has come forth to establish a landing station.
We should take heed of the protests
of British industry against the RIP Act. William Roebuck of E-Center,
Britain’s electronic commerce association, warned: “British companies
will no longer utilize e-commerce. They will move as much of their
businesses offshore as they possibly can.” Both
the London School of Economics and the British Chambers of Commerce
estimated that the RIP Act would cost Britain 45 to 50 billion pounds over
the next five years.
in The Telegraph, Calcutta,
India, on Monday, 05 February 2001, Edit Page
http://www.telegraphindia.com, Click on Archives, Go to issue dated 05 February 2001, Click on Editorial, Click on "Guarding Cyberspace".
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