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Report reveals extensive spying on India
September 24, 2013, 12:45 am

Government employees will have to stop using Gmail and use official local servers to communicate [Getty Images]

Government employees will have to stop using Gmail and use official local servers to communicate [Getty Images]

India is the fifth highest target of a US global communications surveillance programme, classified documents handed over to The Hindu newspaper have shown.

Iran comes first in terms of aggregate data surveilled and accumulated by Washington’s National Security agency (NSA), followed by Pakistan, Jordan, Egypt, and India.

Citing the critical documents provided by NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden, the September 23 edition of The Hindu revealed that two Internet and telephone monitoring programmes – Boundless Informant and Prism – were used to gain access to 13.5 billion pieces of information.

The compiling of information occurs as these programmes collect what is known as metadata. In simplest terms, this is data that reveals information about other data.

If two people are engaged in a cell phone (or email) conversation, the data of the caller is collected and used to reveal data about the recipient. This means that phone numbers, serial numbers, and geo-location of both the caller and recipient are collected.

In India, the leaked documents have shown, at least 6.2 billion metadata of local and overseas communications, was collected in just one month.

The Hindu says it received colour-coded “global heat maps” which reveal the extent of NSA surveillance in key countries around the world.

“Just in March 2013, the US agency collected 6.3 billion pieces of information from the Internet network in India. Another NSA heat map shows that the American agency collected 6.2 billion pieces of information from the country’s telephone networks during the same period,” The Hindu says.

The newspaper also said that study of the leaked documents it received from Snowden, now living in Moscow, revealed that a lot of NSA surveillance centred around India’s nuclear, space, and geopolitical and economic interests.

“With the colour scheme ranging from green (least subjected to surveillance) through yellow and orange to red (most surveillance), the heat maps show India in the shades of deep orange and red even as fellow BRICS nations like Brazil, Russia and China — all monitored extensively — sit in green or yellow zones,” the report showed.

While there has been no government reaction to the information revealed by the Snowden Affair, senior Indian officials have said that the NSA programme was a method of counter-terrorism.

However, the Indian government has moved to ban its employees from using foreign email servers such as Gmail through Google or Yahoo Mail in a bid to protect confidential information from overseas intelligence agencies.

Some 500,000 government employees and diplomats overseas will instead have to use the official email service provided by India’s National Informatics Centre, which is part of the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology’s Department of Electronics and Information Technology.

Other BRICS countries have taken similar measures to protect sensitive communications; Brazil is currently studying new legislation that would seek to force Google, Facebook and other internet companies to store locally gathered data inside Brazil. The new legislation would force foreign-based internet companies to maintain data centres inside Brazil that would then be governed by Brazilian privacy laws, officials said

Last week, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff postponed an official visit to the White House scheduled for October 23 citing revelations that the NSA was also heavily snooping on Brazilian citizens, the country’s industries and the economy.

“The illegal practices of intercepting the communications and data of citizens, companies and members of the Brazilian government constitute a serious act against national sovereignty and individual rights, and incompatible with the democratic coexistence of friendly countries,” a presidential statement said on September 17.

Rousseff has also been refocusing emphasis on completing the construction of the BRICS Cable, an underwater fibre-optic link with two endpoints in Fortaleza, Brazil and Vladivostok, Russia, and a connection from the former to Miami.

Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa currently use hubs in Europe and the US to connect to one another, which translates into higher costs and leaves open the opportunity for data interception and theft. Once connected, the cable would bypass the US.

The new cable, comprising 2-fibre pair 12.8 Terabit per-second capacity Fibre optic cable system, is BRICS’s greatest strategic investment for member countries and is expected to enhance technology sharing, maintain cyber-security, and boost trade and facilitate financial transactions.

The BRICS Post with inputs from Agencies

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