Online Ears?

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Published: November 23, 2015 12:25:29 AM

Maharashtra must tread carefully on tracking social media conversations to pre-empt threats

Ever since it emerged how efficiently terror outfits have used communications channels like direct messaging (DM) and social media, calls for monitoring these have been growing stronger. The US, the UK and Israel already have the technology to “listen in” on social media/DM and other conversations happening over networks, including LAN gaming. This, security experts have acknowledged in global media, helps proactive policing and makes investigation-based pre-empting of attacks/attackers easier. Thus, Maharashtra starting its own tech platform to scan internet conversations seems more like an acknowledgement of the changed realities than anything radical.
However, while the benefits of such ‘eavesdropping’ could be manifold, especially in a city like Mumbai which has frequently been battered by terror attacks, Maharashtra has to tread carefully. Any surveillance of this nature would require appropriate legal backing, and it is not immediately clear if the rights of interception allowed to investigating and policing agencies under the IT Act would be sufficient.

The Economic Times reports that the state is likely to approach the courts to get service providers to share data, and in the light of the NSA surveillance controversy in the US, that seems a tricky terrain with most companies baulking like Facebook at the thought of outraging users. Then, as has been hinted at by the Paris-attack probes, terrorist outfits have grown wiser about being tracked via Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, etc, and are switching to gaming networks (Sony PS4 console-to-console communications) and evanescent-DM services like Telegram. Given how notoriously lagging the government can be in matters of technology, there is a chance that by the time  Maharashtra’s system is up and running, it would already be redundant.

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