Centre for Internet & Society

The Centre for Internet and Society (CIS) on December 19, 2014 held a talk on “Security and Surveillance – Optimizing Security while Safeguarding Human Rights.

The talk focused on a project that is being undertaken by CIS in collaboration with Privacy International, UK. Initiated in 2014, the project seeks to study the regulatory side of surveillance and related technologies in the Indian context. The main objective of the project is to initiate dialogue on surveillance and security in India, government regulation, and the processes that go into the same. The talk saw enthusiastic participation from civil society members, policy advisors on technology, and engineering students.

During the event it was highlighted that requirements of judicial authorization, transparency and proportionality are currently lacking in the legal regime for surveillance in India and at the same time India has a strong system of ‘security’ that service providers must adhere to – which works towards enhancing cyber security in the country.

Discussions played out with regard to how most of the nine intelligence agencies that are authorized to intercept information in India are outside the ambit of parliamentary oversight, the RTI and the CAG, making them virtually unaccountable to the Indian public.

Another conversation focused on the sharing of information between various intelligence agencies within the country, and the fact that this area is virtually unregulated. The discussion then steered to cyber-security in general, emerging technologies used by the Government of India for surveillance, cooperative agreements for surveillance technologies that India has with other countries, the export and import of such technologies from India, and most importantly, the role of service providers in the surveillance debate, and the regulations they are subject to.

A common theme seemed to be emerging from the discussion was that the agencies responsible for regulating information interception and surveillance in the country are shockingly unaccountable to the Indian public. As an active civil society member noted today - “There is no oversight/monitoring of the agencies themselves, so there’s no way anyone would even know of how many instances of surveillance or unauthorized interception have actually occurred.”

The talk successfully concluded with inputs from members of the audience, and a broad consensus on the fact that the Government of India would have to adhere to stronger regulatory standards, harmonized surveillance standards, stronger export and import certification standards, etc., in order to make surveillance in India more transparent and accountable. As was stated at the talk, “We don’t have a problem with the concept of surveillance per se, - it has more to do with its problematic implementation”.

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