By Sujit Bhar
The terrorist attack in London has resulted in the call for a social taboo to be brought to the fore: regulate the Internet. In the free European world, this is probably the one place which mirrors the US’ First Amendment. And that’s why it is guarded with so much zeal. The problem is that terrorists have used this weakness within free societies to misuse the gift to modern mankind.
When British Prime Minister Theresa May called for stricter regulation of the Internet, it was in a point in time when public riposte wouldn’t have been that quick or strong. It wasn’t. The first thought was to keep the country safe. But this time the techies stepped in, saying it would be rather difficult to implement, considering that there are layers within layers in the deep web, and quite like the legendary giant squid, it would never again be visible for effective control.
This is probably a reason why even the much derided NSA of the US has been allowed to retain a certain amount of access to listening posts. The NIA of India has asked for such authority and they have made a strong case for themselves when they did pick up valuable clues through chatter on the net, especially on the social media circuit.
It has been said that the UK government’s surveillance powers “are already so vast” that not much more can really be done to enhance it. Every time you move into a private interaction, you are violating the rights of a private citizen. Not every time can you justify this by the ruse of hearing in on a possible terror plot. In the US, the NSA had ridden roughshod over rights and the entire web of deceit was so large that some of it had to be dismantled. It had become so widespread that German Chancellor Angela Merkel had alleged that the US was listening in to her phone calls.
Such an international PR blunder needs to be avoided by the UK if it tries to spin a larger web. Ditto for India. But terror is terror, and India has finally agreed to set up a system through which it can intercept important messaging critical to national interest.
In the UK, technology advocacy organization Electronic Frontier Foundation has been reported as saying: “The most likely outcome, in fact, would be simply to drive threatening communications underground, where they will be harder to expose and challenge. They will inevitably restrict the speech of law-abiding citizens. We should reject these calls and ensure that the Internet remains free and open.”
Bugging the net too much might not also yield the right results. During mafia don Al Capone’s heydays, the FBI had bugged almost every room in his house. However, they could never tape Capone giving a kill order, because it was said that if he wanted someone killed, he would simply nod. The internet has a similar method, got down to the deep web.
However, as it is seen in cases of lone wolf attacks, where hidden instincts are jolted into the open, these are more effective through social media, and that is what needs to be monitored, if possible.
This call for monitoring social media has reached a high in India, not just for reasons for monitoring terror activity as also for controlling the sale of child pornography and other sexually abusive material over the web. A case in the Supreme Court has been trying to find a solution through interviews with officials of Whatsapp, Google, Apple and other companies on how to maintain privacy. This search might lead to the larger picture of monitoring the social media for other activity as well.
Indian laws, though, fall short in dealing with such activity even if they are found, in the absence of bilateral or trilateral deals with other countries. For India, thus, the problem is manifold and a possible model developed in the interest of the West can only benefit India, which can adopt a modified version of it.
To that end May’s call for more control of the Net can be followed with great interest.