Indian Government is soon going to launch Netra, an Internet surveillance system to spy on all Internet traffic inside India. It can read and access whatever content is being generated by users on Internet such as social media posts, emails, images, videos, blog posts and even voice.
Netra or NEtwork TRAffic Analysis has been developed by India’s Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics (CAIR), a sub-division of Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO).
Netra would be used by Intelligence Bureau (IB) which is our domestic intelligence agency along with Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) which is our external intelligence agency to “intercept and analyze Internet traffic using pre-defined filters”.
DRDO has been working on Netra since 2010, when a team comprising of Dr. G Athithan and his team presented a high performance network traffic analysis technology for information security. A team of 40 senior scientists is behind the development and implementation of this Internet surveillance system, the first of any kind created inside India.
Last year, Government carried out tests of Netra and another Internet surveillance system called “Vishwarupal“, developed by the National Technical Research Organization (NTRO). Basically, they were trying to determine which of these systems is more efficient.
But as per the reports, both of them failed to capture full 100% web traffic and often crashed as well. And then in June this year, reports came out that our Home Ministry is looking for a solid Internet monitoring system which can capture all data points and report suspicious activities.
And now, it seems that Home ministry has finally chosen Netra which would be rolled out somewhere in the end of 2013, as per the recent reports.
How Netra Will Work?
Netra will basically filter out the content which is being generated by netizens. It will detect and catch words like ‘attack’, ‘bomb’, ‘blast’, ‘kill’, ‘jehad’, ‘murder’ etc as soon as they are uploaded via social media shares such as Facebook updates, Tweets, posted in forums, sent via email or mentioned in article or blog post.
Additionally, Netra can also detect any of these words if they are spoken via Google Voice or Skype and then report the concerned IPs to the authorities.
But 300 GB Data Limit?
As per the reports, Intelligence Agencies such as RAW and IB will only be given a space of 300 GB to store the intercepted data generated by Internet and an additional 100 GB for other agencies such as Department of Telecommunications.
If this news is correct, then I am afraid Netra will miserably fail as on an average every minute, 640 TB of data is transferred, 100k Tweets and 204 million emails are sent on the Internet. Though these numbers are global, you can imagine the kind of data that gets transferred. 300GB may exhaust in hours if not minutes!
Will Internet Surveillance Work?
Being a social media activist, it is my personal opinion that Internet surveillance will never work. Even world’s largest military power: USA is trying to monitor and spy on the Internet using its PRISM program, but it has failed to achieve 100% success. Technological entrepreneurs such as Larry Page, founder of Google has also said that Internet monitoring can only work to an extent.
One of the founding fathers of World Wide Web: Dr. Vint Cerf has already declared that any mechanism to control Internet via surveillance or censorship is bound to fail as the basic premise of Internet is based on freedom of expression and action.
Tim Berners-Lee, the person who is hailed as the inventor of World Wide Web has repeatedly said that “surveillance threatens the web”. According to him, the very democratic nature of the Internet stands at being crushed under the heavy stones of surveillance and censorship.
What is your take on the issue of Internet Surveillance by the Government of India?
Do share your views!