Indian Central Monitoring System Project Needs PMO Intervention


By Praveen Dalal

The central monitoring system (CMS) project of India intends to be a centralised system where all analogous and digital communications, messages, data, information, etc can be intercepted, stored, analysed and used for law enforcement and intelligence agencies purposes.

On the face of it, the CMS project of India is an essential tool to serve the crucial law enforcement purposes of India. It may also be handy to safeguard the national security of India. However, there are many troublesome aspects of CMS project that must be resolved first before it is implemented in India.

In the past Indian government has initiated the implementation of untested projects like Aadhaar. Now the Aadhaar project has been challenged in multiple courts around the country. Even worst, the Aadhaar project is highly vulnerable from cyber security and data security perspective.

It seems the history is repeating itself and now the CMS project has been pushed in the similar manner as has been done in case of Aadhaar. In a parallel development the PMO has questioned the preferential market access (PMA) policy of ministry of information and communication technology (MICT). However, this is too little and too late that also for the wrong reasons.

If at all the PMO is interested in regulating the unregulated, arbitrary and unconstitutional acts, omissions and projects of MICT and other ministries, the PMO must start with Aadhaar and CMS projects.

PMO must also ensure that India reconciles civil liberties and national security requirements. Further, PMO must also be a forerunner for formulation and implementation of the telecom security policy of India and cyber security policy of India that are still missing as on date.

Some areas that require special attention of PMO in general and Indian Parliament in particular are human rights protection in cyberspace, e-surveillance in India, cell site location based e-surveillance, cell site data location laws in India, lawful interception laws in India, etc. We need to formulate dedicated laws like privacy laws, data protection laws, data security laws and cyber security laws in India. Further, the cyber law of India must be repealed as it carries many unconstitutional provisions.

During the recent hearing in the Coalgate case, the Supreme Court of India expressed its opinion that the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) must be independent and autonomous in nature and political involvement in its matters must be missing. However, this is not possible in India as there is no parliamentary oversight of law enforcement and intelligence agencies of India that is urgently needed in India.

Take the example of the recent private bill titled Intelligence Services (Powers and Regulation) Bill, 2011. It was shelved out by none other than the Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh who announced that law on intelligence agencies would be formulated soon. However, it proved nothing but a “time gaining tactics” and so far intelligence agencies of India are not governed by any legal framework and parliamentary oversight.

Interestingly, even the CBI is riding the same boat. The Draft Central Bureau of Investigation Act, 2010 is another example where the Indian government is just interested in making “declaration” with no actual “intention” to implement the same.

In these circumstances, the proposed Indian central monitoring system project is nothing more than an e-surveillance tool in the hands of Indian government and its agencies. With softwares like FinFisher and projects like Aadhaar and CMS, Indian civil liberty advocates have to fight a very difficult and prolonged battle with the Indian government.