Spy agencies in India snooping on citizens without ISP knowledge

According to a sizzling report by The Hindu eleven spy agencies including the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) are involved in surveillance operations of the entire Internet population of India – which according to latest stats stand at around 160 million.

The paper has claimed that the Lawful Intercept and Monitoring (LIM) systems setup by the Centre for Development of Telematics (C-DoT) without the knowledge of ISPs and these are used to carry out wide-ranging surveillance activities through ‘keyword’, ‘keyphrase’, bases searches. The report also went onto claim that the system can also carry out ‘text searches’, ‘check some search’, ‘serial scanning’, ‘wildcard search’ among other forms of scanning. Spooks are carrying out national level monitoring using the above mentioned tactics of emails, Internet traffic, Skype and other such online activities of Indian users.

Telecom operators in India are required to deploy their own LIM system, which would enable them to intercept calls by the government – but that too only after due authorization is checked for in compliance with Section 5(2) of the Indian Telegraph Act and Rule 419(A) of the IT Rules. Now when it comes to interception and monitoring of Internet traffic, the LIM systems are deployed directly by the government at international gateways under control of handful of large ISPs. Smaller regional and state level ISPs do not have any control over these LIMs and neither do the large ISPs as it’s only the government which holds 100 percent control of these systems.

If we go back in time, back in 2006 Government had chalked safeguards that would govern monitoring Internet traffic under which ISPs were required to have “designated nodal officers.” These offices would have nodal officers who will be in charge of communicating and receiving the “intimations for interceptions.” The officers are, according to the safeguards, required to meet with government officials and “seek confirmation regarding their (interception orders) authenticity every 15 days.” However, The Hindu claims that the safeguards are not being followed as most of the ISPs neither have LIM systems installed nor do they have “functional nodal officers.”

The paper went onto claim that ISP-level mandatory check for authenticity is absent in most parts and the government has unchecked access to Internet traffic of all Indians. As the government controls the Internet LIMs, it directly sends out commands and filters information it needs from the Internet pipe at the international gateways.

Previously there have been reports of government deploying Central Monitoring System through which it will have unrestricted access, a single window view if we may, to each byte of information that follows across the telecom network in India. Different agencies of the government like the National Investigation Agency as well as tax authorities will have also access to communication data of citizens of India.