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Usually, people claiming their governments are spying on them are considered merely paranoids or conspiracy-lovers. But in the last several years, it has become hard to really tell the difference between those conspiracy theories and reality.
During the last couple of weeks, India’s government has started rolling out what it refers to as the Central Monitoring System – a project that gives it access to everything its citizens do over the country’s communications services. The system tracks phone calls, SMS and online activities like chats and e-mails, and gives authorities a way to easily monitor citizens.
Such systems aren’t a new idea. The U.S has been considering such an idea since September 11, and maybe even longer. The problem with India’s implementation, passed as a bill after the Mumbai bombing in 2008 and again in 2011, is the lack of rules to prevent what privacy advocates are calling an “abuse” of the system. Many activists, both in India and abroad, are worried that the government will interpret the basic principle allowing it to use the tool for “reasonable security practices and procedures” as widely as it can, preventing anyone from criticizing it without facing allegations like treason or support of terrorism.
India, however, is not the only country trying to get the ability to monitor its citizens’ behavior on-line.
China and North Korea are the most known cases, blocking access to websites and logging all internet activity. It is believed the Chinese government even uses local tech companies exporting communications systems to other countries (i.e Huawei, ZTE) to spy on governments, companies and civilian life.
Last February, The Guardian uncovered a spying software developed for the U.S military in 2010 by Raytheon, called Rapid Information Overlay Technology (Riot). The software is able to track social network users, logging images, location etc. from Facebook, Twitter and other major internet services, mapping people’s travel habits and connections.
Late last month, Israeli Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein confirmed that security officials at Ben-Gurion Airport can order tourists give them access to their e-mail accounts, threatening them with denial of entry if they refuse. In a letter sent to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), following a June 2012 scandal which led to fierce criticism on the government, Weinstein wrote the policy is backed up by law, and is only used in case of “relevant suspicious signs” and with the passengers’ consent. In response, Lila Margalit from ACRI said “Such ‘consent’ – given under threat of deportation – cannot serve as a basis for such a drastic invasion of privacy”.