`India’s phone, Internet monitoring system is chilling`

The UPA government introduced CMS in Parliament in 2012, and it was rolled out in April 2013.

New Delhi: The Indian government’s intention of laying out the Central Monitoring System (CMS) has come under question a day after it was revealed that the US’ National Security Agency has been monitoring data of mobile phone users.

“The centralised monitoring is chilling, given its reckless and irresponsible use of the sedition and Internet laws,” said Cynthia Wong, the senior Internet researcher at international NGO Human Rights Watch.

The UPA government introduced CMS in Parliament in 2012, and it was rolled out in April 2013. The system is expected to enable the government to monitor all phone and internet communications in the country. It will provide state bodies like the National Investigation Agency, centralised access to the country’s telecom network and facilitate direct monitoring of phone calls, text messages, and Internet use bypassing service providers.

While India claims that CMS will be a secure system, the NGO has said that the government has released very little information about what agencies will have access to the system, who will authorise surveillance, and what legal standards must be met to intercept various kinds of data or communications.

“Surveillance tools are often used by governments and bureaucrats for political reasons instead of security purposes, and often in a covert way that violates human rights,” Wong said.

The NGO also said that India has a poor record of protecting free expression on the Internet. Section 66A of the Information Technology Act – which deals with information that is “grossly offensive” or “has menacing character”, or causes annoyance or inconvenience – has been used repeatedly to arrest critics of the government.

Indian activists too have raised concerns that the CMS will inhibit them from expressing their opinions and sharing information. Experts say such surveillance capabilities have purposely been used around the world to target critics, journalists, and human rights activists.