France-based non-profit organisation, Reporters Without Boundaries, has included Government-owned technology development centre, Centre for Development of Telematics (C-DOT) in its 2014 ‘Enemies Of The Internet’ report.
According to the report, three of the government bodies designated as Enemies of the Internet are located in democracies that have traditionally claimed to respect fundamental freedoms – the Centre for Development of Telematics in India, the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) in the UK, and the National Security Agency (NSA) in the US, calling them “no better than their Chinese, Russian, Iranian or Bahraini counterparts”.
The ‘Enemies Of The Internet’ report is critical of the Indian Government’s mass electronic surveillance and data mining system, now known as Central Monitoring System (CMS), which was created by C-DOT and started rolling out in 2013. The report states, “The fact that a surveillance system of that magnitude can be established is due to the absence of a legal protection of privacy and personal data.” The Government’s justification has always been that the system is required for maintaining the security of the country against terrorist threats.
Reporters Without Boundaries, in the report, also expressed concern over sections of the IT Act of 2000 as well as the amendments made to it in 2008 and 2011. In fact, objections to some of these clauses have been raised by privacy rights advocates and concerned citizens in India over the years too. One of these includes the amendment to Section 66A, which empowers the Government to imprison a person up to three years with a fine for sharing information, which is “grossly offensive or of menacing character” online. It can be recalled that in 2013, two girls from Palghar, Maharashtra were arrested for violating this law after one of them posted a message on Facebook questioning the shutdown of Mumbai after the death of a political leader. Reporters Without Boundaries singled out this clause for particular criticism, stating, “The use of vague definitions allows great latitude for officials who are targeting web users, effectively authorizing arbitrary practices.”
The C-DOT was formed in 1984 with a mandate to develop telecommunication technology solutions. However, after the Mumbai terrorist attacks in 2008, C-DOT was involved in creating electronic monitoring and surveillance systems for the Government, including the CMS. The CMS project, which was initiated without Parliamentary approval, has been seen as controversial and against the democratic and privacy rights of individuals. Concerns have also been raised over the potential abuse of the system, which tracks online activities, phone calls, text messages and social media conversations.
The ‘Enemies Of The Internet’ is an annual report which focuses on policies and agencies, both government and private, which Reporters Without Boundaries perceives as a deterrent to freedom of expression or the spread of information on the internet.