Delhi metro porn videos: How Big Brother is selling your privacy

Earlier this week, in a shocking disregard for the privacy of its commuters, more than 250 clips of couples getting intimate on the Delhi Metro were revealed to have been uploaded on international porn sites.

This footage which had videos ranging from a duration of two- to eight-minutes were being uploaded onto the websites since 2011.The incident has raised serious questions about the safety of information being gathered in the name of security and raised the prospect of a new threat: Leaking and misuse of surveillance data.

Privacy experts say that the incident of the videos landing up on porn sites only bolsters the case for a more stringent privacy law for India, without which there will be nothing to prevent the misuse of information gathered under surveillance, and culprits will remain unpunished.

The Delhi Metro video clips send out a message that our security can be breached easily without anyone knowing and at the whim of a stranger sitting on the other side of surveillance technology.

"The leakage of footage is a threat even from the natural security angle. If someone could leak these clips showing couples in compromising positions in the Delhi Metro, one can only imagine what kind of footage can be made available to cyber criminals and terrorists. Let this serve as a wake up call that India needs to do quite a lot in terms of beefing up its cyber security and also ensuring that unauthorized leakages don't take place," says Pavan Duggal, cyber security expert and supreme court advocate.

One of the trains on the Delhi metro yellow line: AFP

One of the trains on the Delhi metro yellow line: AFP

There is a whole new threat to increasingly becoming a watched society -- where someone who is supposed to be the custodian of our security and privacy is the same person who violates it.

"Usually when privacy is infringed upon, it is so that security will be improved. But, here we have infringed on the privacy of individuals and the corresponding increase in security is not proportionate to the loss of that privacy," Sunil Abraham, executive director at the Bangalore based Center for Internet and Society (CIS) told Firstpost.

Surveillance gone awry?

Usha Ramanathan, an independent law researcher adds that the Delhi Metro videos have more to do with the hazards of the pervasive use of technology than just privacy.

"The proliferation of surveillance tech without any understanding of why they are there and how much should be allowed is a problem. It is more an introduction of insecurity to our daily lives -- we don't understand the nature of surveillance and security," she told Firstpost.

"There's a thin line between surveillance and stalking. Merely using the word security does not equal real security," she added.

Duggal says that "it is extremely problematic" that Big Brother is focused so entirely on watching us, even as he fails to watch his employees. With no checks and balances in place to ensure the security, authenticity, veracity and appropriate preservation of electronic information, incidents like the Delhi Metro videos will continue.

"Because putting a big brother machinery is one issue and ensuring there is no leakage is another. Unless there are adequate transparencies in the systems and strict procedures to ensure that misuse of data doesn't take place, we will continue facing these problems," Duggal said.

IT act is without teeth

"The government keeps reassuring us we do have a data protection section in the IT Act, Section 43A. But this so called data protection section does not cover internationally accepted privacy principles. It also does not regulate the actions of government entities in India. It only regulates private sector organizations. Most of 43A only talks of security of data and does not adequately cover under what circumstances data can be disclosed, " Abraham said.

Duggal agrees with Abraham that India's IT Act does nothing but "pay lip-service" to the notion of privacy.

"India has been relatively laid back in terms of cyber security. it is only now that they have come up with a national cyber security policy which is nothing but a coalition of policy statements minus any action plan," Duggal said.

He argues that the IT act does justice to neither data security nor personal privacy.

"There are still some sections of IT act which offenders can be booked under -- like section 67 which deals with online obscenity which is a bailable offense, punishable with 3 years imprisonment and Rs 5 lakhs fine. Offenders can also be booked under section 66A of the IT Act and section 66E. However, all of these offences are bailable, clearly not acting as a deterrence," Duggal said.

"We need a very strong privacy law, which we don't have," said Abraham of CIS. "So, as of now, in the Indian context there's nothing we can do about such incidents that occur. Till there is no law, the offenders would not have committed any offense." And if the government puts in place a PRISM-like total surveillance system, we will have to worry about a lot more than just CCTV footage being sold to the highest bidder.

The metro incident highlights many flaws with both our laws and our perceptions: PTI

The metro incident highlights many flaws with both our laws and our perceptions: PTI

The eroded values of a voyeur society?

Issues of poor governance aside, experts say that Delhi Metro incident also reflects our own eroding values as a society.

"These are nothing but an indication of a decadent society unable to keep pace with sweeping changes that technology is bringing across. We have all emerged as people of double standards. We don't want anything untoward for ourselves but we do not mind hitting other people below their belt," Duggal says.

This, according to him, has also happened because we have leapfrogged from the PC to the mobile generation instantly -- where people lack inherent net etiquette and the lack of self restraint further complicates the scenario.

"We forget that the Internet does not forget. It is a huge data dragon with infinite memory and whatever you put on it is going to be there for a long time," Duggal says.

But Sunil Abraham is not so sure of whether we have become a culture with abraded values. He says that in the case of the Delhi Metro, it may be a case of too much power that has corrupted the offenders.

"I am uncertain about the average Indian not being respectful of the privacy of other citizens. The people who have leaked these clips are not average Indians, they are in a position of some power even if they are not senior officials," Abraham says.

"They are sitting on so much public information that this can corrupt them," he says.

"Surveillance cameras all over only reflects a society that does not trust its citizens to do the right thing -- and that comes at a cost," Abraham says.


Published Date: Jul 12, 2013 11:23 am | Updated Date: Jul 12, 2013 11:23 am

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