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Spy Files 3: WikiLeaks Sheds More Light On The Global Surveillance Industry

Posted by Maria Xynou at Oct 25, 2013 01:25 PM |
In this article, Maria Xynou looks at WikiLeaks' latest Spy Files and examines the legality of India's surveillance technologies, as well as their potential connection with India's Central Monitoring System (CMS) and implications on human rights.
Spy Files 3: WikiLeaks Sheds More Light On The Global Surveillance Industry

by RamyRaoof on flickr

Last month, WikiLeaks released Spy Files 3”, a mass exposure of the global surveillance trade and industry. WikiLeaks first released the Spy Files in December 2011, which entail brochures, presentations, marketing videos and technical specifications on the global trade of surveillance technologies. Spy Files 3 supplements this with 294 additional documents from 92 global intelligence contractors.

So what do the latest Spy Files reveal about India?

When we think about India, the first issues that probably come to mind are poverty and corruption, while surveillance appears to be a more “Western” and elitist issue. However, while many other developing countries are excluded from WikiLeaks’ list of surveillance technology companies, India is once again on the list with some of the most controversial spyware.

ISS World Surveillance Trade Shows

The latest Spy Files include a brochure of the ISS World 2013 -the so-called “wiretapper’s ball”- which is the world’s largest surveillance trade show. This yearsISS World Asia will take place in Malaysia during the first week of December and law enforcement agencies from around the world will have another opportunity to view and purchase the latest surveillance tech. The leaked ISS World 2013 brochure entails a list of last years’ global attendees. According to the brochure, 53% of the attendees included law enforcement agencies and individuals from the defense, public safety and interior security sectors, 41% of the attendees were ISS vendors and technology integrators, while only 6% of the attendees were telecom operators and from the private enterprise. The brochure boasts that 4,635 individuals from 110 countries attended the ISS World trade shows last year and that the percentage of attendance is increasing.

The following table lists the Indian attendees at last yearsISS World:

Law Enforcement, Defense and Interior Security Attendees

Telecom Operators and Private Enterprises Attendees

ISS Vendors and Technology Integrators Attendees

Andhra Pradesh India Police


AGC Networks

CBI Academy

Cogence Investment Bank

Aqsacom India

Government of India, Telecom Department

India Reliance Communications

ClearTrail Technologies

India Cabinet Secretariat

Span Telecom Pvt. Ldt.

Foundation Technologies

India Centre for Development of Telematics (C-DOT)


India Chandigarh Police

Paladion Networks

India Defence Agency

Polaris Wireless

India General Police

Polixel Security Systems

India Intelligence Department

Pyramid Cyber Security

India National Institute of Criminology

Schleicher Group


Span Technologies

India Police Department, A.P.

TATA India

India Tamil Nadu Police Department

Tata Consultancy Services

Indian Police Service, Vigilance

Telecommunications India

Indian Telecommunications Authority

Vehere Interactive

NTRO India

SAIC Indian Tamil Nadu Police

17                                                        4                                                      15

According to the above table - which is based on data from the WikiLeaksISS World 2013 brochure- the majority of Indian attendees at last years’ ISS World were from the law enforcement, defense and interior security sectors. 15 Indian companies exhibited and sold their surveillance technologies to law enforcement agencies from around the world and it is notable that India’s popular ISP provider, Reliance Communications, attended the trade show too.

In addition to the ISS World 2013 brochure, the Spy Files 3 entail a detailed brochure of a major Indian surveillance technology company: ClearTrail Technologies.

ClearTrail Technologies

ClearTrail Technologies is an Indian company based in Indore. The document titled Internet Monitoring Suite from ClearTrail Technologies boasts about the company’s mass monitoring, deep packet inspection, COMINT, SIGINT, tactical Internet monitoring, network recording and lawful interception technologies. ClearTrail’s Internet Monitoring Suite includes the following products:

1. ComTrail: Mass Monitoring of IP and Voice Networks

ComTrail is an integrated product suite for centralized interception and monitoring of voice and data networks. It is equipped with an advanced analysis engine for pro-active analysis of thousands of connections and is integrated with various tools, such as Link Analysis, Voice Recognition and Target Location.

ComTrail is deployed within a service provider network and its monitoring function correlates voice and data intercepts across diverse networks to provide a comprehensive intelligence picture. ComTrail supports the capture, record and replay of a variety of Voice and IP communications in pretty much any type of communication, including - but not limited to- Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail, BlackBerry, ICQ and GSM voice calls.

Additionally, ComTrail intercepts data from any type of network -whether Wireless, packet data, Wire line or VoIP networks- and can decode hundreds of protocols and P2P applications, including HTTP, Instant Messengers, Web-mails, VoIP Calls and MMS.

In short, ComTrail’s key features include the following:

- Equipped to handle millions of communications per day intercepted over high speed STM & Ethernet Links

- Doubles up as Targeted Monitoring System

- On demand data retention, capacity exceeding several years

- Instant Analysis across thousands of Terabytes

- Correlates Identities across multiple networks

- Speaker Recognition and Target Location

2. xTrail: Targeted IP Monitoring

xTrail is a solution for interception, decoding and analysis of high speed data traffic over IP networks and independently monitors ISPs/GPRS and 3G networks. xTrail has been designed in such a way that it can be deployed within minutes and enables law enforcement agencies to intercept and monitor targeted communications without degrading the service quality of the IP network. This product is capable of intercepting all types of networks -including wireline, wireless, cable, VoIP and VSAT networks- and acts as a black box for “record and replay” targeted Internet communications.

Interestingly enough, xTrail can filter based on a “pure keyword”, a URL/Domain with a keyword, an IP address, a mobile number or even with just a user identity, such as an email ID, chat ID or VoIP ID. Furthermore, xTrail can be integrated with link analysis tools and can export data in a digital format which can allegedly be presented in court as evidence.

In short, xTrail’s key features include the following:

- Pure passive probe

- Designed for rapid field operations at ISP/GPRS/Wi-Max/VSAT Network Gateways

- Stand-alone solution for interception, decoding and analysis of multi Gigabit IP traffic

- Portable trolley based for simplified logistics, can easily be deployed and removed from any network location

- Huge data retention, rich analysis interface and tamper proof court evidence

- Easily integrates with any existing centralized monitoring system for extended coverage

3. QuickTrail: Tactical Wi-Fi Monitoring

Some of the biggest IP monitoring challenges that law enforcement agencies face include cases when targets operate from public Internet networks and/or use encryption.

QuickTrail is a device which is designed to gather intelligence from public Internet networks, when a target is operating from a cyber cafe, a hotel, a university campus or a free Wi-Fi zone. In particular, QuickTrail is equipped with multiple monitoring tools and techniques that can help intercept almost any wired, Wi-Fi or hybrid Internet network so that a target communication can be monitored. QuickTrail can be deployed within fractions of seconds to intercept, reconstruct, replay and analyze email, chat, VoIP and other Internet activities of a target. This device supports real time monitoring and wiretapping of Ethernet LANs.

According to ClearTrail’s brochure, QuickTrail is a “all-in-one” device which can intercept secured communications, know passwords with c-Jack attack, alert on activities of a target, support active and passive interception of Wi-Fi and wired LAN and capture, reconstruct and replay. It is noteworthy that QuickTrail can identify a target machine on the basis of an IP address, MAC ID, machine name, activity status and several other parameters. In addition, QuickTrail supports protocol decoding, including HTTP, SMTP, POP3 and HTTPS. This device also enables the remote and central management of field operations at geographically different locations.

In short, QuickTrail’s key features include the following:

- Conveniently housed in a laptop computer

- Intercepts Wi-Fi and wired LANs in five different ways

- Breaks WEP, WPA/WPA2 to rip-off secured Wi-Fi networks

- Deploys spyware into a target’s machine

- Monitor’s Gmail, Yahoo and all other HTTPS-based communications

- Reconstructs webmails, chats, VoIP calls, news groups and social networks

4. mTrail: Off-The-Air Interception

mTrail offers active and passive ‘off-the-air’ interception of GSM 900/1800/1900 Mhz phone calls and data to meet law enforcement surveillance and investigation requirements. The mTrail passive interception system works in the stealth mode so that there is no dependence on the network operator and so that the target is unaware of the interception of its communications.

The mTrail system has the capability to scale from interception of 2 channels (carrier frequencies) to 32 channels. mTrail can be deployed either in a mobile or fixed mode: in the mobile mode the system is able to fit into a briefcase, while in the fixed mode the system fits in a rack-mount industrial grade chassis.

Target location identification is supported by using signal strength, target numbers, such as IMSI, TIMSI, IMEI or MSI SDN, which makes it possible to listen to the conversation on so-called “lawfully intercepted” calls in near real-time, as well as to store all calls. Additionally, mTrail supports the interception of targeted calls from pre-defined suspect lists and the monitoring of SMS and protocol information.

In short, mTrail’s key features include the following:

- Designed for passive interception of GSM communications

- Intercepts Voice and SMS “off-the-air”

- Detects the location of the target

- Can be deployed as a fixed unit or mounted in a surveillance van

- No support required from GSM operator

5. Astra: Remote Monitoring and Infection framework

Astra is a remote monitoring and infection framework which incorporates both conventional and proprietary infection methods to ensure bot delivery to the targeted devices. It also offers a varied choice in handling the behavior of bots and ensuring non-traceable payload delivery to the controller.

The conventional methods of infection include physical access to a targeted device by using exposed interfaces, such as a CD-ROM, DVD and USB ports, as well as the use of social media engineering techniques. However, Astra also supports bot deployment without requiring any physical access to the target device.

In particular, Astra can push bot to any targeted machine sharing the same LAN (wired, wi-fi or hybrid). The SEED is a generic bot which can identify a target’s location, log keystrokes, capture screen-shots, capture Mic, listen to Skype calls, capture webcams and search the target’s browsing history. Additionally, the SEED bot can also be remotely activated, deactivated or terminated, as and when required. Astra allegedly provides an un-traceable reporting mechanism that operates without using any proxies, which overrules the possibility of getting traced by the target.

Astra’s key features include the following:

- Proactive intelligence gathering

- End-to-end remote infection and monitoring framework

- Follow the target, beat encryption, listen to in-room conversations, capture keystrokes and screen shots

- Designed for centralized management of thousands of targets

- A wide range of deployment mechanisms to optimize success ration

- Non-traceable, non-detectable delivery mechanism

- Intrusive yet stealthy

- Easy interface for handling most complex tasks

- Successfully tested over the current top 10 anti-virus available in the market

- No third party dependencies

- Free from any back-door intervention

ClearTrail Technologies argue that they meet lawful interception regulatory requirements across the globe. In particular, they claim that their products are compliant with ETSI and CALEA regulations and that they are efficient to cater to region specific requirements as well.

The latest Spy Files also include data on foreign surveillance technology companies operating in India, such as Telesoft Technologies, AGT International and Verint Systems. In particular, Verint Systems has its headquarters in New York and offices all around the world, including Bangalore in India. Founded in 1994 and run by Dan Bodner, Verint Systems produces a wide range of surveillance technologies, including the following:

- Impact 360 Speech Analytics

- Impact 360 Text Analytics

- Nextiva Video Management Software (VMS)

- Nextiva Physical Security Information Management (PSIM)

- Nextiva Network Video Recorders (NVRs)

- Nextiva Video Business Intelligence (VBI)

- Nextiva Surveillance Analytics

- Nextiva IP cameras

- CYBERVISION Network Security

- ENGAGE suite





While Verint Systems claims to be in compliance with ETSI, CALEA and other worldwide lawful interception and standards and regulations, it remains unclear whether such products successfully help law enforcement agencies in tackling crime and terrorism, without violating individuals’ right to privacy and other human rights. After all, Verint Systems has participated in ISS World Trade shows which exhibit some of the most controversial spyware in the world, used to target individuals and for mass surveillance.

And what do the latest Spy Files mean for India?

Why is it even important to look at the latest Spy Files? Well, for starters, they reveal data about which Indian law enforcement agencies are interested in surveillance and which companies are interested in selling and/or buying the latest spy gear. And why is any of this important? I can think of three main reasons:

1. The Central Monitoring System (CMS)

2. Is any of this surveillance even legal in India?

3. Can such surveillance result in the violation of human rights?

Spy Files 3...and the Central Monitoring System (CMS)

Following the Mumbai 2008 terrorist attacks, the Telecom Enforcement, Resource and Monitoring (TREM) cells and the Centre for Development of Telematics (C-DOT) started preparing the Central Monitoring System (CMS). As of April 2013, this project is being manned by the Intelligence Bureau, while agencies which are planned to have access to it include the Research & Analysis Wing (RAW) and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). ISP and Telecom operators are required to install the gear which enables law enforcement agencies to carry out the Central Monitoring System under the Unified Access Services (UAS) License Agreement.

The Central Monitoring System aims at centrally monitoring all telecommunications and Internet communications in India and its estimated cost is Rs. 4 billion. In addition to equipping government agencies with Direct Electronic Provisioning, filters and alerts on the target numbers, the CMS will also enable Call Data Records (CDR) analysis and data mining to identify personal information of the target numbers. The CMS supplements regional Internet Monitoring Systems, such as that of Assam, by providing a nationwide monitoring of telecommunications and Internet communications, supposedly to assist law enforcement agencies in tackling crime and terrorism.

However, data monitored and collected through the CMS will be stored in a centralised database, which could potentially increase the probability of centralized cyber attacks and thus increase, rather than reduce, threats to national security. Furthermore, some basic rules of statistics indicate that the bigger the amount of data, the bigger the probability of an error in matching profiles, which could potentially result in innocent people being charged with crimes they did not commit. And most importantly: the CMS currently lacks adequate legal oversight, which means that it remains unclear how monitored data will be used. The UAS License Agreement regarding the CMS mandates mass surveillance by requiring ISPs and Telecom operators to enable the monitoring and interception of communications. However, targeted and mass surveillance through the CMS not only raises serious questions around its legality, but also creates the potential for abuse of the right to privacy and other human rights.

Interestingly enough, Indian law enforcement agencies which attended last yearsISS World trade shows are linked to the Central Monitoring System. In particular, last years’ law enforcement, defense and interior security attendees include the Centre for Development of Telematics (C-DOT) and the Department of Telecommunications, both of which prepared the Central Monitoring System. The list of attendees also includes India’s Intelligence Bureau, which is manning the CMS, as well as the agencies which will have access to the CMS: the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), the National Technical Research Organization (NTRO) and various other state police departments and intelligence agencies.

Furthermore, Spy Files 3 entail a list of last yearsISS World security company attendees, which includes several Indian companies. Again, interestingly enough, many of these companies may potentially be aiding law enforcement with the technology to carry out the Central Monitoring System. ClearTrail Technologies, in particular, provides solutions for targeted and mass monitoring of IP and voice networks, as well as remote monitoring and infection frameworks - all of which would potentially be perfect to aid the Central Monitoring System.

In fact, ClearTrail states in its brochure that its ComTrail product is equipped to handle millions of communications per day, while its xTrail product can easily be integrated with any existing centralised monitoring system for extended coverage. And if that’s not enough, ClearTrail’s Astrais designed for the centralized management of thousands of targets. While there may not be any concrete proof that ClearTrail is indeed aiding the Centralized Monitoring System, the facts speak for themselves: ClearTrail is an Indian company which sells target and mass monitoring products to law enforcement agencies. The Centralized Monitoring System is currently being implemented. What are the odds that ClearTrail is not equipping the CMS? And what are the odds that such technology is not being used for other mass electronic surveillance programmes, such as the Lawful Intercept and Monitoring (LIM)?

Spy Files 3...and the legality of India’s surveillance technologies

ClearTrail Technologies’ brochure -the only leaked document on Indian surveillance technology by the latest Spy Files- states that the company complies with ETSI and CALEA regulations. While it’s clear that the company complies with U.S. and European regulations on the interception of communications to attract more customers in the international market, such regulations don’t really apply within India, which is part of ClearTrail’s market. Notably enough, ClearTrail does not mention any compliance with Indian regulations in its brochure. So let’s have a look at them.

India has five laws which regulate surveillance:

1. The Indian Telegraph Act, 1885

2. The Indian Post Office Act, 1898

3. The Indian Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1933

4. The Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPc), 1973: Section 91

5. The Information Technology (Amendment) Act, 2008

The Indian Post Offices Act does not cover electronic communications and the Indian Wireless Telegraphy Act lacks procedures which would determine if surveillance should be targeted or not. Neither the Indian Telegraph Act nor the Information Technology (Amendment) Act cover mass surveillance, but are both limited to targeted surveillance. Moreover, targeted interception in India according to these laws requires case-by-case authorization by either the home secretary or the secretary department of information technology. In other words, unauthorized, limitless, mass surveillance is not technically permitted by law in India.

The Indian Telegraph Act mandates that the interception of communications can only be carried out on account of a public emergency or for public safety. However, in 2008, the Information Technology Act copied most of the interception provisions of the Indian Telegraph Act, but removed the preconditions of public emergency or public safety, and instead expanded the power of the government to order interception for the “investigation of any offense”.

The interception of Internet communications is mainly covered by the 2009 Rules under the Information Technology Act 2008 and Sections 69 and 69B are particularly noteworthy. According to these Sections, an Intelligence Bureau officer who leaked national secrets may be imprisoned for up to three years, while Section 69 not only allows for the interception of any information transmitted through a computer resource, but also requires that users disclose their encryption keys upon request or face a jail sentence of up to seven years.

While these laws allow for the interception of communications and can be viewed as widely controversial, they do not technically permit the mass surveillance of communications. In other words, ClearTrail’s products, such as ComTrail, which enable the mass interception of IP networks, lack legal backing. However, the Unified Access Services (UAS) License Agreement regarding the Central Monitoring System mandates mass surveillance and requires ISP and Telecom operators to comply.

Through the licenses of the Department of Telecommunications, Internet service providers, cellular providers and telecoms are required to provide the Government of India direct access to all communications data and content even without a warrant, which is not permitted under the laws on interception. These licenses also require cellular providers to have ‘bulk encryption’ of less than 40 bits, which means that potentially any person can use off-the-air interception to monitor phone calls. However, such licenses do not regulate the capture of signal strength, target numbers like IMSI, TIMSI, IMEI or MSI SDN, which can be captured through ClearTrail’s mTrail product.

More importantly, following allegations that the National Technical Research Organization (NTRO) had been using off-the-air interception equipment to snoop on politicians in 2011, the Home Ministry issued a directive to ban the possession or use of all off-the-air phone interception gear. As a result, the Indian Government asked the Customs Department to provide an inventory of all all such equipment imported over a ten year period, and it was uncovered that as many as 73,000 pieces of equipment had been imported. Since, the Home Ministry has informed the heads of law enforcement agencies that there has been a compete ban on use of such equipment and that all those who possess such equipment and fail to inform the Government will face prosecution and imprisonment. In short, ClearTrail's product, mTrail, which undertakes off-the-air phone monitoring is illegal and Indian law enforcement agencies are prohibited from using it.

ClearTrail’s Astra product is capable of remote infection and monitoring, which can push bot to any targeted machine sharing the same LAN. While India’s ISP and telecommunications licenses generally provide some regulations, they appear to be inadequate in regulating specific surveillance technologies which have the capability to target machines and remotely monitor them. Such licenses mandate mass surveillance, but legally, wireless communications are completely unregulated, which raises the question of whether the interception of public Internet networks is allowed. In other words, it is not clear if ClearTrail’s QuickTrail is technically legal or not. The UAS License agreement mandates mass surveillance, and while the law does not prohibit it, it does not mandate mass surveillance either. This remains a grey area.

The issue of data retention arises from ClearTrails leaked brochure. In particular, ClearTrail states in its brochure that ComTrail - which undertakes mass monitoring of IP and Voice networks - retains data upon request, with a capacity that exceeds several years. xTrail - for targeted IP monitoring - has the ability to retain huge volumes of data which can potentially be used as proof in court. However, India currently lacks privacy legislation which would regulate data retention, which means that data collected by ClearTrail could potentially be stored indefinitely.

Section 7 of the Information Technology (Amendment) Act, 2008, deals with the retention of electronic records. However, this section does not state a particular data retention period, nor who will have authorized access to data during its retention, who can authorize such access, whether retained data can be shared with third parties and, if so, under what conditions. Section 7 of the Information Technology (Amendment) Act, 2008, appears to be incredibly vague and to fail to regulate data retention adequately.

Data retention requirements for service providers are included in the ISP and UASL licenses and, while they clarify the type of data they retain, they do not specify adequate conditions for data retention. Due to the lack of data protection legislation in India, it remains unclear how long data collected by companies, such as ClearTrail, would be stored for, as well as who would have authorized access to such data during its retention period, whether such data would be shared with third parties and disclosed and if so, under what conditions.

India currently lacks specific regulations for the use of various types of technologies, which makes it unclear whether ClearTrails spy products are technically legal or not. It is clear that ClearTrail’s mass interception products, such as ComTrail, are not legalized - since Indian laws allow for targeted interception- but they are mandated through the UAS License agreement regarding the Central Monitoring System.

In short, the legality of ClearTrail’s surveillance technologies remains ambiguous. While India’s ISP and telecom licenses and the UAS License Agreement mandate mass surveillance, the laws - particularly the 2009 Information Technology Rules- mandate targeted surveillance and remain silent on the issue of mass surveillance. Technically, this does not constitute mass surveillance legal or illegal, but rather a grey area. Furthermore, while Indias Telegraph Act, Information Technology Act and 2009 Rules allow for the interception, monitoring and decryption of communications and surveillance in general, they do not explicitly regulate the various types of surveillance technologies, but rather attempt to “legalize” them through the blanket term of surveillance.

One thing is clear: India’s license agreements ensure that all ISPs and telecom operators are a part of the surveillance regime. The lack of regulations for India’s surveillance technologies appear to create a grey zone for the expansion of mass surveillance in the country. According to Saikat Datta, an investigative journalist, a senior privacy telecom official stated:

Do you really think a private telecom company can stand up to the government or any intelligence agency and cite law if they want to tap someone’s phone?”

Spy Files 3...and human rights in India

The facts speak for themselves. The latest Spy Files confirm that the same agencies involved in the development of the Central Monitoring System (CMS) are also interested in the latest surveillance technology sold in the global market. Spy Files 3 also provide data on one of India’s largest surveillance technology companies, ClearTrail, which sells a wide range of surveillance technologies to law enforcement agencies around the world. And Spy Files 3 show us exactly what these technologies can do.

In particular, ClearTrail’s ComTrail provides mass monitoring of IP and voice networks, which means that law enforcement agencies using it are capable of intercepting millions of communications every day through Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail and others, of correlating our identities across networks and of targeting our location. xTrail enables law enforcement agencies to monitor us based on our “harmless” metadata, such as our IP address, our mobile number and our email ID. Think our data is secure when using the Internet through a cyber cafe? Well QuickTrail proves us wrong, as it’s able to assist law enforcement agencies in monitoring and intercepting our communications even when we are using public Internet networks.

And indeed, carrying a mobile phone is like carrying a GPS device, especially since mTrail provides law enforcement with off-the-air interception of mobile communications. Not only can mTrail target our location, listen to our calls and store our data, but it can also undertake passive off-the-air interception and monitor our voice, SMS and protocol information. Interestingly enough, mTrail also intercepts targeted calls from a predefined suspect list. The questions though which arise are: who is a suspect? How do we even know if we are suspects? In the age of the War on Terror, potentially anyone could be a suspect and thus potentially anyone’s mobile communications could be intercepted. After all, mass surveillance dictates that we are all suspicious until proven innocent.

And if anyone can potentially be a suspect, then potentially anyone can be remotely infected and monitored by Astra. Having physical access to a targeted device is a conventional surveillance mean of the past. Today, Astra can remotely push bot to our laptops and listen to our Skype calls, capture our Webcams, search our browsing history, identify our location and much more. And why is any of this concerning? Because contrary to mainstream belief, we should all have something to hide!

Privacy protects us from abuse from those in power and safeguards our individuality and autonomy as human beings. If we are opposed to the idea of the police searching our home without a search warrant, we should be opposed to the idea of our indiscriminate mass surveillance. After all, mass surveillance - especially the type undertaken by ClearTrails products - can potentially result in the access, sharing, disclosure and retention of data much more valuable than that acquired by the police searching our home. Our credit card details, our photos, our acquaintances, our personal thoughts and opinions, and other sensitive personal information can usually be found in our laptops, which potentially can constitute much more incriminating information than that found in our homes.

And most importantly: even if we think that we have nothing to hide, it’s really not up to us to decide: it’s up to data analysts. While we may think that our data is “harmless”, a data analyst linking our data to various other people and search activities we have undertaken might indicate otherwise. Five years ago, a UK student studying Islamic terrorism for his Masters dissertation was detained for six days. The student may not have been a terrorist, but his data said this: “Young, male, Muslim... who is downloading Al-Qaeda’s training material” - and that was enough for him to get detained. Clearly, the data analysts mining his online activity did not care about the fact that the only reason why he was downloading Al-Qaeda material was for his Masters dissertation. The fact that he was a male Muslim downloading terrorist material was incriminating enough.

This incident reveals several concerning points: The first is that he was clearly already under surveillance, prior to downloading Al-Qaeda’s material. However, given that he did not have a criminal record and was “just a Masters student in the UK”, there does not appear to be any probable cause for his surveillance in the first place. Clearly he was on some suspect list on the premise that he is male and Muslim - which is a discriminative approach. The second point is that after this incident, it is likely that some male Muslims may be more cautious about their online activity - with the fear of being on some suspect list and eventually being prosecuted because their data shows that “they’re a terrorist”. Thus, mass surveillance today appears to also have implications on freedom of expression. The third point is that this incident reveals the extent of mass surveillance, since even a document downloaded by a Masters student is being monitored.

This case proves that innocent people can potentially be under surveillance and prosecuted, as a result of mass, indiscriminate surveillance. Anyone can potentially be a suspect today, and maybe for the wrong reasons. It does not matter if we think our data is “harmless”, but what matters is who is looking at our data, when and why. Every bit of data potentially hides several other bits of information which we are not aware of, but which will be revealed within a data analysis. We should always have something to hide, as that is the only way to protect us from abuse by those in power.

In the contemporary surveillance state, we are all suspects and mass surveillance technologies, such as the ones sold by ClearTrail, can potentially pose major threats to our right to privacy, freedom of expression and other human rights. And probably the main reason for this is because surveillance technologies in India legally fall in a grey area. Thus, it is recommended that law enforcement agencies in India regulate the various types of surveillance technologies in compliance with the International Principles on Communications Surveillance and Human Rights.

Spy Files 3 show us why our human rights are at peril and why we should fight for our right to be free from suspicion.


This article was cross-posted in Medianama on 6th November 2013.