Saturday 11 June 2011

Civil Liberties Are Infringed Through Technology World Over

Civil liberties like speech and expression, right to know, right to privacy, etc are well known. Even the parameters to restrict their free applicability are also drawn in almost al the constitutions of the world. What is not codified and made public is the manner in which these civil liberties are violated through the use of technology.

Not very late, the US National Security Agency (NSA) was involved in a controversy known as the NSA warrantless surveillance controversy. The NSA was authorised by executive order to monitor, without search warrants, phone calls, e-mails, Internet activity, text messaging, and other communication involving any party believed by the NSA to be outside the US. This was so even if the other end of the communication lies within the US.

This raised lots of hue and cry as it was a serious threat to civil liberties of US citizens. Surprisingly, India has been doing a warrant less e-surveillance for more than 60 years and none bothered to raise a voice.

According to Praveen Dalal, a Supreme Court lawyer and leading techno legal expert of India, we have “No Constitutionally Sound” Lawful Interception Law in India and we need one immediately. The Indian Telegraph Act, 1885 has served it purpose and it must be “Repealed” as soon as possible if India cares about Fundamental Rights of Indian Citizens, suggests Dalal.

Presently, phone tapping in India is done under the telegraph act that has no constitutionally sound provisions for phone tapping. Thus, phone tapping in India is done in an unconstitutional manner as suggested by Praveen Dalal.

Supreme Court of India laid down certain guidelines that provided few safeguards against illegal phone tapping in India. However, neither the Parliament of India enacted a law considering those guidelines nor the Home Ministry of India is following these guidelines in true letter and spirit. The truth is that lawful interception of telephone and other electronic communications in India are not performed constitutionally.

On top of it, the central monitoring system (CMS) has been recently launched by the ministry of communication and information technology. Even CMS failed to provide constitutional safeguards against it abuse.

While citizens of US are well aware of their civil liberties, Indian citizens are all happy even if their civil liberties have been literally snatched from them. Realising the gravity of the situation, the Supreme Court of India has even commented that with the technological advancement, privacy is virtually disappearing in India.

Let us hope the Supreme Court of India would preserve the civil liberties of Indians in general and privacy rights in particular from our endemic e-surveillance Indian government.

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