By Rohan Joshi, Fellow at the Takshashila Insitution
As part of the 2011-2012 annual report of the Department of Telecommunications, the Government of India formally announced its decision to implement a Centralised Monitoring System (CMS) for the “lawful interception and monitoring” of electronic communication channels in the country.
The rapid acceptance of mobile telephony and internet in India has had a profound social and economic impact on the country. However, this growth and acceptance of cyberspace in India has coincided with threats to national security and critical national infrastructure being manifested through cyberspace. A framework for legal surveillance, therefore, can be a powerful asset to the government in monitoring and countering such threats.
However, such an inherently pervasive and intrusive program cannot be deployed in a liberal democracy without an adequate level of trust between the government and its citizens and an appropriate framework of checks-and-balances to ensure that entrusted agencies do not overstep their jurisdiction. Thus, it is imperative that the Indian government take its citizens into confidence on the necessity for such a program, evolve an appropriate framework of laws, including those pertaining to privacy and data retention, and establish a system of checks-and-balances to ensure against systemic overreach prior to the implementation of the CMS.