Unprotected romance with privatised communication providers will cause grave pain
newspaper reports claim that the content of Amar Singh's personal telephone conversation was to be used by his political rivals. A cursory look at this colourful Samajwadi Party leader reveals beyond doubt that he has no rival. It must have been some adult joke between friends, in opposition and government.
Take a glance at Privacy International's phone-tapping webpage (http://www.privacy.org/pi/issues/tapping) and you will see the endless newslist of governments from Slovakia to Abisinia denying phone-tapping by their respective states. The degree of civility and maturity of democracy has no bearing on rising incidence of phone-tapping. Chicago police has just dispatched a memo to its officers that their cellphone records are being sold in open market. The consequence is grave as these records expose undercover operatives to organised criminals. There seems to be no reason for any politician of state official to raise eyebrows about snooping. But closer home, phone-tapping was a 'state subject', where mostly state was snooping on private citizens (lawbreakers included!) using state-owned telecommunication service systems. We can be absolutely sure that the system was undoubtedly made available to private entepreuners for a hefty sum from time to time. But this is the first time private telecommunication systems have provided information on sensitive politicians, state officials, business leaders, property dealers and the general public.
Are we opposing private business in telecommunications? No. We would like to point out the unsafe scenario created by not-so-ethical entrepreneur and weak regulator. According to Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (trai) Act, privacy is guaranteed and illegal tapping is termed as 'misconduct' on the part of the service provider. But in this case, trai so far has raised no question. The leakage may happen at various levels, other than this case where forged documents of tapping order was placed. It can be a greedy employee succumbing to an offer. It can be the service provider itself, as these providers' business interests go beyond telecommunication. One understands their need to know about rivals' strategy as well as state's policy indications in advance. A crime will be committed if there is a chance to let it happen.
On another note, please consider this. As information business moves towards convergence, these service providers will have (as in the developed world) every bit of information about unsuspecting citizens (read consumers). Bill Gates's vision of friction-free capitalism is here, the consumer is naked and transparent. A pervasive, sexy technology in the hands of an entrepreneur and weak state is a dangerous proposition.
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