Fwd: Anti-piracy in India: Balancing the diverse needs of all citizens
- From: karmayog - tanya
1984 all over again
Rigid anti-privacy laws based on the norms and desires that prevail in the
West are likely to tie India's hands
Last week, Bloomberg news reported that sales of George Orwell's novel 1984,
featuring a futuristic totalitarian state jumped on the Amazon.com website
following reports of a classified programme that lets the US government
collect personal data.
The Washington Post and The Guardian had reported earlier that a top-secret
US electronic surveillance programme allows the US National Security Agency
(NSA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to access data from
audio and video chats, photographs, emails, documents and connection logs
from the biggest US Internet companies.
All that sounds eerily similar to Orwell's novel that portrays a dystopian
society where individuals are monitored by television screens everywhere and
overseen by a leader called Big Brother. The whistleblower, Eric Snowden, a
former NSA contractor, who revealed the programme to The Guardian,
acknowledged that his life would change completely as a consequence but said
in justification, "I'm willing to sacrifice all of that because I can't in
good conscience allow the US government to destroy privacy, Internet freedom
and basic liberties for people around the world with this massive
surveillance machine they're secretly building."
From the point of view of privacy, the world has changed dramatically since
the events of 9/11.
As every traveller knows, travel has gone from being an enjoyable experience
to a nightmarish one with identity checks, document requirements and
frequent security scans. We are now photographed in almost every public
place in major cities around the world. There are now millions of cameras in
malls, airports, train stations, traffic junctions and even the public parks
in New York, London, Chicago, Sydney, Shanghai, New Delhi and Bangalore.
After the recent bombings at the Boston Marathon, authorities had to scan
through hours of footage from government surveillance cameras, private
security cameras and smart phone captures of the public. They then used
facial recognition software to parse the mountain of video data and release
the pictures of two suspects within days of the bombings.
When you retreat from a public place and turn on your computer or
smartphone, you are being tracked again. The latest revelations about
widespread monitoring of the Internet usage, emails and photos combined with
information about Global Positioning System (GPS) locations and server IDs
map you to anyone who cares to look carefully. There is a raging debate in
the West about the extent of surveillance and the cost-benefit of being
observed most of the time. There is widespread support for public
surveillance as of now, but snooping on private behaviour on the Internet is
likely to inflame passions.
As with everything else, the picture in India is much more complex.
Terrorism concerns, privacy issues and identity debates are intertwined.
India is, at once, at least three countries. India A is a middle-income
country with educated citizens who have global mobility, upward trajectories
and (almost) western concerns. India A's citizens are worried about being
captured on footage and about being tracked online. India B is an aspiring,
They are less worried about privacy and more about getting ahead. If the
trains and buses run on time as a result of a thousand cameras, they are
happy to live with it. India C is a poor country. India C's citizens are not
bothered about privacy, online or offline, because they have nothing to
loose. They are desperately trying to access the ramp of the mainstream
highway. They seek a basic identity, so that they can begin as individual
citizens to see some benefit of a growing economy.
Navigating the three Indias from the point of privacy is no simple task.
Although the constitution does not contain an explicit reference to a right
to privacy, this right has been read into it by the Supreme Court as a
component of two fundamental rights: the right to freedom under Article 19
and the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21. In the absence
of constitutional protection against search and seizure (similar to the
fourth amendment in the US), India has flirted with several draconian
provisions in law, especially anti-terrorism laws.
At the same time, India has embarked on a massive biometric identification
project to provide basic identity, and with it, access to the services of
the state. India is taking its first steps towards privacy regulation with a
draft law based on former justice A.P. Shah's expert group report on privacy
and data protection. Rigid anti-privacy laws based on the West at this time
are likely to tie India's hands at precisely the moment when much of its
citizens (India C) need a path ahead. Balancing the diverse needs of all
citizens will require debate, wisdom and the willingness to tread a unique
PS: "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary
safety deserve neither liberty nor safety," said Benjamin Franklin. "Freedom
is the right to tell people what they do not want to hear," said George
Narayan Ramachandran is chairman, InKlude Labs. Comments are welcome at