Blogger Writes from Inside the Newest Police State on the Planet

What would it be like if all those anti-privacy laws you keep hearing about passed? Just ask someone who lives in India.

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

When it comes to countries in North America, it’s not often that India reaches the headlines unless a Canadian or an American is involved in the story. Then again, there is the occasional report that does offer a small glimpse into what it is like to live in the digital environment of India. A blogger from India recently wrote a piece about the new surveillance laws of India and the arguments used to pass it as well as some of the provisions that were mentioned seemed surprisingly similar to that of laws being brought forth to legislators in countries like Australia, Britain and what is currently being talked about in the United States.

Sometimes, reports like these raises the question of validity, so we took some initiative and verified what was happening through a business article writing in 2007 that suggests that the Indian security market then was worth $170 million. In December of 2008, though, an article essentially proved that legislation referenced in that article was, in fact, passed in India.

The legislation that is being discussed was known as “The Information Technology (Amendment) Bill”. The posting says that under these new laws and amendments, the government is now allowed to “intercept messages from mobile phones, computers and other communication devices to investigate any offence. Not just cognizable offence, the kind you witnessed in Mumbai 26/11, but any offence.”

Those two sentences alone sounds like the US’s FISA act on steroids. It could very well have been inspired by laws from the United States, but other provisions discussed sounds more like provisions currently being proposed in Australia. the blogger writes, “Around 45 amendments have been made to the original Act, which now treats both publishers of online pornography and its consumers on equal footing. A law so sweeping in its powers that it allows a police officer in the rank of a sub-inspector to walk in or break in to the privacy of your home and see if you were surfing porn or not.”

It’s an observation that would make just about any digital rights activist’s skin crawl. The blogger creatively sums up a number of provisions with the following:

– Thou shall not author a joke. Not even forward one
– Thou shall not surf Bollywood news
– Thou shall not watch porn

As reported by MediaNama, the bill passed the lower house in a hurry and without debate.

Wikipedia is also keeping tabs on the legislation saying that “The Bill has since been passed in the Parliament on December 23, 2008. It is awaiting assent of the President and formal notification. The Bill as passed has many changes from the earlier draft indicated in the previous paragraph and incorporates the recommendations made by the Parliamentary Standing Committee.”

Apparently, one of the arguments going back and forth looked a bit like this:

‘So what?’ is the familiar rhetoric. Why fear if you’ve got nothing to hide? Why should law abiding citizens be bothered about some ‘inevitable invasion’ into privacy in the wake of increasing terror attacks? After all the perpetrators of terror are known to use Internet and other modern communication tools to plan and execute deadly strikes like that happened in Mumbai.

There is only one answer and it is a Thomas Jefferson quote: Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.

One observation one can make from this legislation is that it almost appears to be taking some of the worst ideas proposed by many countries around the world and gluing them together in a piece of legislation. It seems to be just another disturbing instance of governments around the world gaining sweeping new powers, sacrificing privacy in the process.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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