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13 June 2013, Gateway House

Badi Soch: ‘One Nation under God’ and above all?

This daily column includes Gateway House’s Badi Soch – big thought – of the day’s foreign policy events. Today’s focus is on Washington' s phone and email spying programme-PRISM.

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Washington’s phone and email spying programme PRISM and its deployment against countries across the world has raised many eyebrows. Over 7% of phone and internet connections monitored by the National Security Agency originated from India, making it the 5th most spied-on country. Defending the programme, the NSA director stated that “dozens” of terrorist attacks on U.S. soil and overseas had been disrupted as a result. Naturally, the details of these thwarted attacks are classified.

Perhaps more galling than the fact that the U.S. is spying on its so-called allies is the position taken by President Obama that “American citizens would not be spied on”. But the rest of the world is apparently fair game. India’s Ministry of External Affairs swiftly decried as “unacceptable” the U.S. snooping on its citizens. It is encouraging, however to see that India appears to be moving beyond mere condemnation and taking the threat of cyber attacks seriously. The government is all set to appoint a cyber security coordinator and roll out a brand new cyber security system that goes beyond mere anti-virus protection and firewalls.

A crucial focus here is data protection and the government is keen to work with private software companies and Internet Service Providers in public-private partnerships to create reliable indigenous security software. Like the West and China, we should develop indigenous search engines and internet tools to reduce the dependence on some of the global software companies that have turned user data over to U.S. agencies. The success of such a holistic security system will depend greatly on whether or not the much vaunted Indian IT industry can bring to the table the sort of expertise and imagination demonstrated by Russian and American cyber entities. It might also be worth considering enlisting the services of ‘ethical hackers’ as part of the PPP to create a more secure safety net for Indians.

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