India stepping up surveillance on social websites: Report


surveillance-on-social-websitesLUCKNOW: In clear signs of the Indian government increasing its online surveillance, not all of it necessarily tenable, Apple’s first transparency report, released globally on November 5, suggests India made 27 “law enforcement device requests” regarding 65 Apple devices between January 1 and June 30, 2013.

In contrast, the global transparency report released by Facebook shows that the Indian government sent over 3,200 requests for “some” information related to 41,44 user accounts. Microsoft and Skype, during the same period, received account-specific details for 413 Microsoft accounts and 102 Skype accounts by the Indian government.

While Apple supplied data in 41% cases, Facebook says it complied with the requests in nearly 50% cases and supplied user data to the Indian government. Microsoft and Skype, in the transparency reports, have said 80.6% and 79.1% data was released, respectively.

In its report, Apple explains device-based requests include specific requests by a government agency or court, including those seeking customer contact information or the date on which Apple services were first used on a device, in cases where thefts are reported. In case of India, one of the 41 countries that sought such information, Apple received 65 requests for specific devices including iPhone, iPad, iPod and Mac.

The report also clarifies Apple supplied “some” data in 11 cases, amounting to 41% compliance to the total requests received. This information, the report suggests, includes purchase information or relevant device information such as device registration, subscriber, service, and repair in response to a “valid legal process”.

India does not, however, feature in Apple’s list of 31 countries that sought more specific account details of users, personal data and their use of online services, including customer identifying information like email, stored photographs, or other user content stored online.

Though Apple has only released sketchy details of the number of account-related details sought by various governments, the United States tops the surveillance lists in both categories; the US government made 3,542 requests for a total of 8,605 devices in the law enforcement requests category. Though exact numbers have not been released, the US government also sought account specific information regarding 2,000-3,000 users. Apple does not specify the exact percentage of accounts it gave out data for in the US.

Even in India, the extent of online monitoring is only expected to go up. Already, the Indian government is getting ready to set up a Centralized Monitoring System across telecom operators and ISPs, which will not only allow it to monitor internet traffic, not just without approval from courts but also without the knowledge of telecom operators. It will, however, have to seek information from companies like Twitter, Facebook and Google, where user information is encrypted.

Already, India ranks second in the world – after United States – for seeking account specific details from Facebook between January 1 and June 30, 2013. In contrast, US generated between 11,000 and 12,000 such requests. While Facebook supplied information for 50% of the total accounts in India, Facebook released 79% data for US-based user accounts.

Twitter, in the meantime, has also released its transparency report saying the Indian government requested for the removal of one tweet through a court order and another removal request though a government or police order. Between January 1 and June 30, 2013, Twitter was asked to withhold three tweets.

Though no accounts were barred during this period, Twitter says it received 60 removal requests between January and June 2013 for 104 user accounts and it complied with 38% of these requests. The company also received fewer than 10 requests for disclosure of user information from the Indian government but did not, its transparency report says, comply with any such requests.