Namaste, India

Implications to India of Britain’s alleged telecommunications spy base.

The Register reports on Britain’s covert cyber surveillance program in the Middle East.  The report is unconfirmed and there’s really no way to verify the veracity of any of the Register‘s claims, but it does make for interesting reading.  The report claims that Britain’s submarine Internet cable surveillance program is based out of Muscat, Oman (at Seeb station).  It further claims that “probes” are installed on optical cable networks belonging to two British telecommunications heavyweights — BT and Vodafone, thus allowing snooped data to be accessed by cyber-surveillance personnel in the UK.

According to documents revealed by Edward Snowden to journalists including Glenn Greenwald among others, the intelligence agency annually pays selected companies tens of millions of pounds to run secret teams which install hidden connections which copy customers’ data and messages to the spooks’ processing centres. The GCHQ-contracted companies also install optical fibre taps or “probes” into equipment belonging to other companies without their knowledge or consent. Within GCHQ, each company has a special section called a “Sensitive Relationship Team” or SRT. [The Register]

This is particularly interesting because two of the four eastbound submarine cables from Seeb station in Muscat (GIBS and FLAG FALCON), provide backbone connectivity to western India via Mumbai (wild guess, probably at Prabhadevi).  This map will better illustrate the route of the eastern half of Seeb station’s connectivity.  The report alleges that BT and Vodafone are two top earners of secret payments from Britain’s SIGINT organization, GCHQ.   Lest we forget, India represents Vodafone’s largest customer base and the company’s second-largest country in terms of data traffic.

This begs the question: if any of this is true, just how badly compromised is India’s Internet and telecommunications data if the integrity of two of its ingress and egress points is in question?  The Luddites among us, I’m sure, look on with barely-concealed glee.

 

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Urdunama: Ghazwa-e-Hind

On May 5, 2014, Lashkar-e-Taiba’s leader Hafiz Saeed chastised Pakistan’s GEO Group, accusing it of representing India and favoring India’s views against Pakistan.  He then proceeded to write an op-ed in the very same group’s Urdu newspaper, Jang, two weeks later on the occasion of the anniversary of Pakistan’s nuclear tests.  In his op-ed, Saeed warned Pakistan’s political leadership of India’s enmity with Pakistan and urged them to exercise caution in dealing with the new Indian government.

Excerpts follow:

India conducted its May 18, 1974 nuclear tests a mere 93 miles away from the Pakistani border.  These nuclear tests were conducted within a few years of East Pakistan having been lost.  After the 1971 victory, Indira Gandhi stated that the Two Nation Theory as a credible concept now lay somewhere at the bottom of the Bay of Bengal.

But why did India conduct nuclear tests even after it had successfully managed to dismember Pakistan?  The truth is India accumulated nuclear weapons and missiles not because it harbors any good intentions towards its neighbors, but because it wishes to dismember them.  Pakistan, by contrast, has only pursued nuclear weapons for self-defense.   Nuclear technology is essential to Pakistan for two reasons.

One, India to this day has not accepted the reality of Pakistan.  It opposes the integrity and raison d’être of the Pakistani state.   India is an enemy of Pakistan and Islam on political, religious and societal lines.  The concept of “Akhand Bharat” is but a manifestation of the religious, political and militant extremism of India’s leaders.  India’s leaders harbor the same ill-will towards Pakistan today as they did in 1947 or 1971.  Nuclear weapons are thus needed to protect Pakistan’s independence and sovereignty.

Two, Pakistan is a developing country and is confronted with many challenges, including an energy crisis.  We are now also faced with critical water shortages as a result of India’s “water terrorism” against us.  With the help of nuclear energy, Pakistan can hope to address critical shortages in energy supply in Pakistan.

Sixteen years ago, the ruling BJP party threatened to seize Azad Kashmir and annihilate Pakistan after they tested their nuclear weapons.  The BJP is back in power in India.  Narendra Modi is now the prime minister and most Indians appear to be enthusiastic at the ascendance of this extremist leader.

We appeal to Pakistan’s leaders that they should not forget that India’s attitude towards Pakistan has not changed in the 16 years since the nuclear tests .  India’s attitude towards Pakistan is one of hatred and enmity. Our past leaders were prepared to sacrifice Pakistan’s independence and sovereignty in the quest for peace with India.  They deviated from our long-standing official position on Kashmir.  But what did Pakistan get in return from India?  Enmity, sabotage, terrorism, water aggression and hatred.

The clearest evidence of India’s antipathy towards Pakistan is the most recently-concluded elections in India, which were contested exclusively on the basis of hatred towards Pakistan.  These elections have revealed India’s farcical claims of secularism and friendship with Pakistan. BJP’s agenda involves the abrogation of Jammu & Kashmir’s special status, replacement of the Babri Masjid with a Ram temple and the repatriation of all Hindus living abroad to India.

We therefore ask Pakistan’s political leaders to reassess their priorities in dealing with India.  Optimism is perhaps a good thing, but being delusional isn’t. In international relations, delusional thinking can lead to the downfall of countries.  It is important, therefore, for our government to clearly identify our enemy and understand its aims and motivations. [جنگ]

The MJC appears to be working overtime on account of the new leadership in India.  We also understand that Saeed has scheduled a Ghazwa-e-Hind (Conquest of India) conference on June 5 in Rawalakot, PoK, with the usual suspects Maulana Saifullah Khalid and Nassar Javed likely to be in attendance. (h/t @TarekFatah)

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Guestpost: Privacy laws and legal interception in India

India needs to evolve comprehensive privacy laws that protect individual rights before implementing a framework for legal interception, argues Ranjeet Rane, who works with the Public Affairs team at Edelman India and is a Research Assistant at Takshashila Institution.

In my previous post, I had stressed on the need for an urgent debate between the government and citizens on privacy rights and limitations in India, given the recently implemented Centralized Monitoring System (CMS). A counter agreement being presented is that the CMS will be a better option for  the Indian citizen as it provides a legal framework for lawful interception, against the current practice of content monitoring and filtering through unregulated, ad-hoc processes involving intermediaries such as telecom companies and ISPs.

The CMS is intended to ensure that each interception request is tracked and the recorded content duly destroyed within six months as required under law.   In this post, however, I will try to present a case against the implementation of the CMS by looking at the existing provisions in the Information Technology Act 2000 (and subsequent amendments) that make an effort to address issues of privacy.

Section 72 of the Information Technology Act 2000 in its original form penalized the breaches of confidentiality and privacy of data. Essentially, the scope of the provision covered those empowered by the Act to gain access to any electronic record, book, register, correspondence, information document or other material seized for investigation. It was aimed at preventing accidental leaks of such information during the course of investigations.

This was later amended to include Section 72A to penalize “any person” (including an intermediary) who has obtained personal information while providing services under a lawful contract and discloses the personal information without consent of the person, with the intent to cause, or knowing it is likely to cause wrongful gain or wrongful loss.

When this clause is read together with Section 69B of the Act, it squarely puts the responsibility of securing personal data on the intermediary, which in this case could be a wide spectrum of actors from cyber cafes to telecom companies and ISPs. Indeed, if this Act is used to justify the implementation of CMS, it would need significant amendments to clearly identify those central and state agencies authorized to access such information. The recent case of National Technical Research Organization being at the forefront of snooping activities is still fresh in public memory.

The next set of amendments came into force by the addition Section 43A which obliges corporate bodies which possess, deal or handle any sensitive personal data to implement and maintain “reasonable security practices,” failing which they would be liable for disclosure.  The Act defines “corporate bodies” as those involved in “commercial or professional activities.”

The definitions of “sensitive personal data” and “reasonable security practices” are narrow and hence prevents courts from interpreting a contextual definition.  Most importantly, government agencies and non-profit organizations are entirely excluded from the ambit of this section.

The act further lays down the Rules for:

  • Privacy Policy
  • Collection of Information
  • Transfer of Information
  • Reasonable Security Practices and Procedures

Elaborate rules to address the points above are still only in draft phrase.

It is only in the Section 66E (Violation of Privacy) that we find privacy concerns addressed.  The euphoria doesn’t last long as this section only covers electronic voyeurism and penalizes acts of capturing, publishing and transmission of images of the “private area” of any person without their consent, “under circumstances violating the privacy” of that person.

This section falls short of acknowledging the importance of protecting personally identifiable information (name, passport number, date of birth, biometric information, etc.) and deals only with disclosure of potentially compromising photographs.

It is clear that the status of a legal framework to protect the privacy of citizens in India is inadequate. The Information Technology Act does not have any provision for penalizing government agencies for overreach. Implementing any program like the CMS in the absence of clauses on privacy, regulation and oversight over government conduct will be concerning.  Indeed,  recent media controversies point to the possibility of political misuse of new tools and resources.

The government ought to consider bringing a comprehensive Privacy Bill to the floor for debate, instead of piecemeal additions to the Information Technology Act. This Bill should ensure adequate oversight for all activities of surveillance. This oversight should be coupled with providing information in public domain about convictions happening through such monitoring.

This will not only make it mandatory for the agencies concerned to justify their actions but will also lead to more efficient results than those expected from blanket monitoring. Such a bill will seek to also limit political abuse of resources at the disposal of national security & investigation agencies.

The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights mentions under Article 12 that:

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honor and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

As a signatory and one of the founding nations behind the UN Human Rights Declaration, we haven’t set the kind of example in our commitment to individuals’ privacy expected from a liberal democracy like ours. The need of the hour is for India to develop adequate and effective privacy legislation based on a set of clearly defined principles. Privacy as an entitlement ought to be an end result of this comprehensive reform.

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GEOPolitics

The attack on Hamid Mir and its aftermath.

Propagandists in Pakistan move in mysterious ways their wonders to perform.  Those who once exercised creative license to ascribe any and all acts of terror in Pakistan to India’s external intelligence agency R&AW are now being labeled agents of that same agency.  Hamid Mir, senior journalist with the GEO Group, was attacked this past Saturday by unidentified persons while on his way to a special broadcast on GEO TV in Karachi.  Mr. Mir was shot six times in the abdomen and legs, but miraculously survived the attack.

In the ensuing outrage, Amir Mir, brother to Hamid and a journalist of repute himself, accused the ISI of orchestrating the attack on his brother.  GEO TV, as part of its coverage of the attack, broadcast a photograph of DG ISI Lt. Gen. Zahir ul-Islam, while Ansar Abbasi, investigative editor of the Jang Group’s English-language newspaper The News, demanded his resignation.

Big mistake.  One does not simply accuse the DG ISI on national television and get away with it.  The ISI dismissed the allegations as “baseless” (as all allegations usually are in Pakistan). Pakistan’s Defense Ministry, in its complaint against GEO TV, accuses it of bringing the ISI into disrepute and demands that Pakistan’s Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) cancel GEO TV’s license to broadcast.

With the PEMRA verdict still pending, GEO TV took to Twitter yesterday, indicating that its channel had been blocked by a few cable operators.  This may of course be true, but some of us may be forgiven if we suspect this to be a reenactment of the last time GEO TV claimed to have been taken off air. In that particular instance, a GEO official privately confirmed that they had “taken themselves off the air in order to blame [a] political party, and garner support for the station.”

GEO TV and Mr. Mir are now under attack from many quarters.  Rival media houses are in an all-out war.  Many of them are unable to appreciate the fact that the price one now pays for defying the Deep State is no longer censorship, it is death.  And it wouldn’t matter if it were GEO, Express or Dawn.  The rules of the game have changed.

Of course, propaganda theories of Indian involvement are never very far when hell breaks loose in Pakistan, which is always.  The Awami Muslim League’s Sheikh Rasheed, who was “detained” in the U.S. in 2012 for his links with Lashkar-e-Taiba and Hafiz Saeed, opined that the attack on Hamid Mir benefited India, which was looking to malign the Pakistani Army and ISI. Hafiz Saeed also took to Twitter to level vague and uncreative accusations at India and the U.S. 

Mr. Mir himself had been particularly distressed in the recent past at being labelled an “Indian agent.” But how things change.  It wasn’t too long ago that Mr. Mir did the bidding of higher powers in Rawalpindi and Islamabad before he managed to find his liberal conscience (though possibly not his “liberal fascist” conscience).

Indeed, he was for the ISI before he was against it.  After all, not every journalist in Pakistan gets to interview Osama bin Laden.  And that too not once, but on three occasions. But the nature of that relationship changed in 2010 when a tape surfaced of Mr. Mir allegedly conversing with the TTP’s Usman Punjabi, in which he relayed false information that may have contributed to the death of ISI official Khalid Khawaja.  The recorded conversation, still available online, also has Mr. Mir talking disparagingly about Pakistan’s persecuted Ahmedis. Quite the liberal indeed.

So where does this all end? It is hard to see how PEMRA could fly in the face of the ISI’s demands and recommend anything other than revoking GEO’s license. But in time, the brouhaha will be forgotten.  Ansar Abbasi and the GEO crew will probably show up somewhere, somehow on some national TV show in which they will proceed to eulogize the Pakistani army, thereby underscoring their hubb ul-watan (patriotic) credentials. Couple this with private undertakings to comply with the red lines now drawn and order will be restored. Licenses will be reinstated, and talk show hosts and their guests will be yelling at each other, competing for the soundbite of the day on GEO TV soon enough.

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