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Sunday, August 30, 2015

THE DEATH OF A PERCEPTION CALLED PRIVACY

Hello World,



I read a news that the administration is in talks with the US administration to get into a data-sharing agreement where the governments will share their ‘Terrorism Screening Information’ for collaborative enhanced law enforcement. Also the government is looking to demand Internet Data from the US servers, covering companies such as Google, Bing, Yahoo etc. 

While I am all for collaborative safety measures and law enforcement to protect the citizens from terrorism I do not agree with the level of information sharing that will happen, especially concerning the information on US Servers that may be shared or deleted by the US administration upon request from international agencies.

While massive amounts of personal information is going to be shared by the governments, which itself will be a massive breach of our privacy, I am more concerned of the access to internet content on US servers that will be exclusive to the govt. agencies here. There will be disastrous consequences when the agencies here get the exclusive right/access to the information stored on US servers. In the name of potential terror prevention mechanisms, the information that will educate and help Indian citizens will be deleted and/or the author of the content be punished.

The Indian societal set-up is a mix of demographies and this set-up is here to stay. However, the educated demographies are slowly growing and the subsequent result includes a growing disparity in the levels of awareness among the citizens here. What is obvious for one is non-existent for the other, even when both of them are from the same family, living in the same house. While we are struggling to come to terms with harsh realities, especially that of the grossly inhuman activities we have been practicing in the name of religion, tradition etc., we are also actively looking to assess events going on around us using different forms of information available to us. 

Most of the Indian know-how depends largely on the personal account [or rather opinion, be it informed or cooked-up] of a trustworthy acquaintance [family, friend, neighbour etc.] but we as a community are slowly realising the power of the internet. We are buying a lot of items online and consciously choosing online stores over the conventional brick-and-mortar businesses. We are looking things up more often than before. The internet, at this point in time, serves as a single unbiased source of information [both facts and fiction] to us here.

In the recent past, multiple events covering large scale violations of human rights took place and the administration has been pointing at certain pieces of information [potentially untrue] on the internet, stating that those fragments of information caused the acts of terror. This, in my opinion is serving as the basis for the government agencies demanding Internet-Data on US servers so they can delete those pieces of information before they create mayhem.

While this sounds very safe and people-oriented, this is the real danger looming on us Indians right now as the administrations are close to inking the deal. Once the deal is inked with such an agreement, everything that is said about what’s going on in India, that is on US servers will be available for censorship by the administration. In essence the government will control the online opinions of Indian citizens, potentially violating their rights to free speech by deleting anything that is found as undesirable to those in power. This will also open the floor for lobbyists who will prompt the administration to delete data from US servers that might pose as any competition to their corporate profits [which they might share as a fee for the favor]. 


Allowing any administration to review and censor information shared over the public domain will cause disastrous consequences in countries like India. The US administration may not be entirely aware of the social environment prevailing in India right now. The disparity in public awareness is indescribable and the hatred on the basis of economic-status/religion/caste/language is growing at a rate faster than the growth and inflation rates. Every hate-speech has an audience and the audience is dumb enough to approve any nonsense that may be thrown at it. Allowing the administration, that is run by one or more groups utilising such hate-based vote-banks, to decide on the existence of information on US servers [be it any server for that matter] will create a information bias where one set of political hate-speech and corporate schemes will prevail over the rest. Those who hold the power and their friends will get to keep their information on the internet safe and visible while those of their [perceived] adversaries will cease to exist and the authors of such information will be prosecuted and possibly murdered. The request for deletion will be made on grounds of potential law and order issue that may rise as a result of something on the internet. What will not be made clear is that such censorship will have politically backed propaganda where one group will work towards preventing the rest of its competitors from spreading awareness. 

Be it a political/corporate-backed scheme or just an administrational drama, in the end, citizens will not have the freedom to share their views without getting censored or punished for exercising their right to do so. Internet Start-Ups will be operating, running the risk of getting shut down anytime they get on the bad side of the administration with or without knowledge or intent. Anyone who is friends with those who control the censorship of information on the internet will enjoy the privilege of terminating their competitors by illegitimate means which will be recorded as legitimate action executed by the administration in the name of national security or public interest. 

Our privacies are anyways gone as the mass surveillance systems are already tracking our every move without us knowing about it. What is left is the censor-protected data storage centers abroad, possibly beyond the purview of the local administration that serves as the platform for censor-free information sharing among citizens who at best are still struggling to understand the concept of awareness and freedom.

If the US administration agrees to hand over access/control of Internet-Data on US servers to the local administration here, then that will essentially mark the beginning of the institutionalisation of persecution of Indian citizens. Letting the administration control the information on the internet will result in the formation and/or the growth of terrorist entities within the country who will never make it to the database that is being shared among the agencies. There are organisations here that engage in acts of terror against select group of innocent citizens simply on the basis of hatred and those groups will be further empowered to establish their control on the society. These groups will never be called terrorists and will never feature on any database, partly because they are connected to political parties but mostly because the levels of citizen awareness here is still below detectable range. Allowing them to access an institutionalised censorship tool will result in the increase in hatred within the country and civilian deaths in riots will grow exponentially.

As of now, we are not sure what type of information will be shared as part of the collaborative sharing of terrorism screening information and therefore that is open to debate. What is certain is the large scale breach of privacies of citizens. While I do not agree with any version of mass surveillance programs, I do believe that safety will cost a certain amount of privacy, irrespective of us liking it or not but transparency can at least make it fair. What I am absolutely terrified about is the fact that an administration is about to get access to internet-data on US servers in exchange for sharing terrorism screening database. 

The terrorists will just have to switch roles from enemies to friends of the administration so they don’t feature on the database that is shared. Entities operating entirely on the basis of mutual hatred among citizens will gain control over what propaganda reaches the citizen and the citizens will be left with no fair means to express their views. An avalanche of ignorance and institutionalised terrorism is looking over India right now. 

All we had was a silly perception of privacy and with this agreement, even that is about to die. 

Image Source: http://www.seqlegal.com/sites/default/files/free-legal-document-images/privacy-policy-image.png


Regards,