More than one lakh phone tapping orders are issued by the central government every year, but the total number of such interceptions can be of a 'staggering scale' after taking into account the directions from state governments, a new study has found.
The study, 'India's surveillance state', prepared on the basis of RTI replies given by the government, also found that 26 companies including foreign firms expressed interest in setting up Internet monitoring systems for the government. These included companies offering "far more potent surveillance technologies including phone interception, social media network analysis and data mining and profiling".
The study was conducted by Software Freedom Law Centre, a non-profit legal services organisation, and was released at recently held Internet Governance Forum in Istanbul. "...on an average, more than a lakh of telephone interception orders are issued by the central government alone every year. On adding the surveillance orders issued by the State Governments to this, it becomes clear that India routinely surveils her citizens’ communications on a truly staggering scale," the 68-page report said.
The state surveillance of citizens' private communications is authorised by legislative enactments such as the Indian Telegraph Act and the Information Technology Act, which allow Indian law enforcement agencies to closely monitor phone calls, texts, e-mails and general Internet activity on a number of broadly worded grounds.
The issue of phone tapping has often led to controversies in India including in 2010, when tapped conversations of corporate lobbyist Niira Radia with businessmen, politicians and journalists got leaked. Only a few agencies in India are authorised to tap phones and a rigorous screening process is said to be in place for grant of such authorisations.
As per the report, Network Traffic Analysis (NETRA) storage servers will be installed at more than 1000 locations across India. The Controller of Certifying Authorities uses Section 28 of the IT Act, an ambiguous provision, to collect user data from technology companies. An RTI request revealed that they have made 73 requests under this provision in 2011.