The summoning of the US charge d’affaires to South Block on July 2 on the issue of snooping by the US’s National Security Agency (NSA) was a welcome step. The revelation that the BJP was targeted for snooping as long ago as 2010 is not at all surprising. It can now be mentioned that immediately after India was elected to the United Nations Security Council in 2010, a request was made by the permanent mission of India in New York to South Block, asking for safeguards against precisely such an eventuality.
By no stretch of definition can the then main opposition party in India or, for that matter, the Indian delegation to the UN, be regarded as requiring surveillance by the NSA if the concern is anchored in the desire to counter terrorism. Equally, to try to defend the sweeping collection of phone and internet records on the grounds that it was only gathering “metadata” is profoundly misleading.
The radio silence from the UPA government on revelations by Edward Snowden almost two years ago that the NSA engaged in massive snooping operations at a global level, including telephone conversations of leaders of other countries, was in marked contrast to reactions from other countries. Brazil’s cancellation of a state visit to Washington DC at the invitation of President Barack Obama and the public expression of outrage, including the recent expulsion of the senior-most intelligence operative by Germany, a close ally of the US and Nato partner, stand out in contrast. The Indian protest under the UPA was low-level, belated, feeble and pro forma.
It would have been embarrassing for the government of India to condemn such a practice by the US if, for example, Vodafone and/ or AT&T were to come out with a public assertion in response that they were extending similar services to India at the request of the then government. Recent revelations by Vodafone that India was among the governments which asked it to snoop/ wire-tap calls, e-mails and text messages going into and out of the country have surprisingly not received the attention they should have.
The revelation explains yet another phenomenon that earlier appeared inscrutable, that of employees of multinational internet and telecom majors masquerading as spokespersons of the Indian telecom and internet industry. When questions relating to global internet governance acquired salience, this particular group cornered the space for discussion and, through motivated writings, sought to propagate the thesis that the “multi-stakeholder” model advocated globally by the multinational internet and telecom majors resonated in India as well, with little or scant regard for the long-term interests of India and Indian internet and telecom majors.
The NETmundial conference in Sao Paulo, Brazil, in April this year produced an outcome that fell far short of the expectations of most observers and sought to continued…