Big brother’s many tools

The Indian government has been trying its best to get access to Internet data and has had its shot at Internet censorship from time to time. It’s been trying to get into the Blackberries and the iPhones. Besides the usual legal recourse, phone tapping, shadowing, questioning and on the ground investigation, the government has a whole new set of tools now. Assuming that it wants to play big brother, will it succeed? Take a look at these new tools it has and decide for yourselves.

  • The Unique Identification Authority of India, a government agency charged with giving nearly 1.2 billion Indians a unique online identification number has been testing Iris based authentication system and has concluded that the mechanism to identify millions of people using iris scans is highly accurate. The system, works over mobile networks and offline cameras that appears crude compared to what you see in Minority Report but the country now has a biometric database which contains fingerprint and iris scans of nearly 200 million residents. The database, already the largest in the world, will soon have a majority of the country’s population on it. Read our earlier post here.
  • The government is planning create a pool of DNA profiles of “offenders.” The center will introduce the bill, first introduced in 2007, in the Parliament to legislate this. According to experts, this could lead to large scale misuse. According to news reports, the bill will also cover people who go through abortion, fight paternity suits and receive or donate organs.
  • The center is now buying software to gain access to secure mobile phones or password protected computers. The home ministry is buying more than 30 lisenced software from firms in the US, Canada and Israel to crack siezed mobilephones and computers, according to a recent report. It’s had trouble getting at information stored in Blackberry and iPhones.
  • In Maharashtra, the state government wants to install a network of 6,000 CCTV cameras across Mumbai. Bidding has been mired in cotroversies but the state is going to spend nearly Rs 500 crore to install these cameras. Similar networks are being installed in various parts of the country.
  • A national population register, containing photographs and biometric scans, is being setup at the cost of Rs 3539 cr. Data collection is underway. Many have been enrolled already.
  • NATGRID (National Intelligence Grid) will make it easy for security agencies including RAW, IB, CBI, Enforcement Directorate and others to access collated data from 21 different categories of databases including railway and air travel, income tax, phone records, credit card transactions, bank accounts, property records and other details.

Surely, all this is being done by an elected government then why are we worried? Because of the lack of safeguards. The Right to Privacy bill is still in the works (if there is one, we haven’t heard of it) and there are no basic guarantees from the government to protect privacy  of the Indian citizen yet.

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