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Calling all stations

Why are Indian “techies” conspicuously absent from India’s debates on cyber-security?

In an attempt to regulate conduct and provide security over electronic media, the Indian government enacted the Information Technology (IT) Act (2000) and implemented the Central Monitoring System (CMS).  The IT Act, which contains clauses such as Section 66A, which challenges the spirit of the Constitution of the country, was passed in Parliament with no debate.

Similarly, the CMS, whose mandate encompassed the lawful interception of telecommunications and Internet traffic, was implemented at an initial cost of well over $120 million.  We are now given to understand that due to technological limitations, the scope of the CMS, at least in the interim, will be restricted to the interception of telecommunication and unencrypted Internet traffic.  OK, except freely-available open-source security tools and a pool of cyber-security professionals could deliver results sought by the restricted mandate of the CMS at a negligible cost.

The question that emerges is this: did the government of India (and those that advise it) know of the inherent technological limitations that inhibit full-spectrum interception of electronic data?  If they didn’t, we should be astounded by the level of incompetence.  If they did, India’s citizens should be challenging wasteful expenditure towards a program whose mandate no one appears to be able to deliver upon. Curiously, much of the public debate on cyber-security in India seems to be led mostly by legal experts or by open society advocates.  But where are India’s technophiles?  Why is there almost no articulation of the technological challenges such a program presents to those that govern us?

We are told that India is a global software leader and that IT and IT-enabled service sectors provide employment to millions of citizens. Indians are taking to the Internet at a faster rate than any other major economy in the world; India’s mobile penetration rate is off the charts at 70 per cent (870 million subscribers).

Heck, the IT revolution in India has also led us to coin and mass-accept the term “techie,” used by almost no one else in the world in that context (a “techie” in the U.S., for example, is technician involved in setting up sound and lighting for film/TV production sets).  An army of Indian technophiles dominates social media and multi-media sharing websites such as Youtube.  Yet, these technophiles have been silent in an already-muted debate on the governance of cyberspace in India.

This is not to say that legal experts and open society champions have no role to play in in the discourse.  Indeed, legal experts and open-society advocates provide perspective and expertise that others in India may not have.  Their participation in the debate, therefore, is not only beneficial but essential.  At the same time though, we are missing critical perspectives from technology experts if legal and open-society advocates continue to dominate the discourse as they do now in India.  The narrative of the discourse today is skewed in favor of debates over privacy and the spirit of the Constitution and doesn’t feature in any meaningful way, critiques of the government of India’s approach from a technological standpoint.

It should be a matter of concern that India’s broad and vibrant base of technology professionals is mostly absent from debates on how India governs technology.  What do we put this down to — a lack of awareness?  Or disinterest?  More importantly, what can we do to entice them into participating and enriching the discourse?

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2 Responses to Calling all stations

  1. IWar July 29, 2013 at 10:25 pm #

    I would attribute it mainly to disinterest. It has been seen again and again that the Indian technorati cares way too little about societal issues caused by technology and see no reason to spend their and energy on causes that champion free speech, free software, open society etc.

    Still trying to understand the root cause given the rich (albeit old and “dusty”) culture of political mindedness that pervades the rest of the society.

  2. Rohan Joshi July 29, 2013 at 10:36 pm #

    Great point on societal problems caused by technology, Srijith. IMO, the problem is a microcosm of society itself – the general apathy towards anything relating to governance. What can GoI do to correct the trajectory? Are there any real world examples available?

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