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Building an Indian social network

For the sake of national security and to protect the privacy of its citizens,India should develop its own social media platforms.

Written by Kamlesh Bajaj |
August 13, 2013 4:39:10 am

For the sake of national security and to protect the privacy of its citizens,India should develop its own social media platforms

Revelations about global surveillance by the US National Security Agency (NSA) has made other governments think about their national security. It is instructive to see how the US government has created legal instruments,in the form of the amended Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and the Patriot Act,to conduct electronic surveillance.

It is now well known that the critical internet resources like domain name servers,global routers,the control of ICANN for internet governance give a natural advantage to the US in global cyber surveillance. These platforms are used by all countries,and their traffic largely passes through the US,thereby exposing it to surveillance. Social media platforms further expose the nationals of other countries to the risks of such surveillance by the US government. Most are American,but it is the citizens of other countries whose personal data,under NSA scrutiny,is at risk of US surveillance. At the same time,the law enforcement agencies (LEAs) of India,for example,cannot access content or the coordinates of suspects,even in terrorist and serious crime cases,because these may not be considered crimes under US law.

Every nation has to fend for itself. What are the lessons for India? Much has been said about cyber and national security through building indigenous capabilities in chip design,telecom equipment,operating systems and databases,along with preferential market access for these products and systems for reasons of security. But what is missing from the discourse is the development of social media platforms. Anonymity in cyberspace gives everyone a chance to air their views. It can promote harmony or disharmony. Since this medium is going to expand,it is important that India creates its own platforms,much like our own newspapers and magazines. The content will remain within the territorial jurisdiction of India,and be subject to national laws. Likewise,search engine data about Indians will also remain in India. It makes tremendous business sense for Indian companies,since advertising revenue from these platforms is increasing. For example,Google’s revenue from the Indian market was reported to be Rs 1,162 crore from search and Google+ alone. At present,a large number of Indian users are on email and social media platforms such as Google,Microsoft,Facebook,Yahoo and YouTube. The present base of 130 million users is likely to touch 300 million in the next few years. The potential of increased revenue from social media platforms is obvious. That is why many of these companies are chasing the Indian market.

The idea of promoting our own social media companies needs to be pursued. China has shown the way,even though its reasons were different,namely suppressing public dissent and monitoring online chat to identify potential troublemakers. But today,some of those platforms are bigger than Twitter. While Facebook and Google+ are the top two social networks,six out of the top ten are Chinese. Qzone is China’s biggest social network,with around 600 million registered users. Renren,launched in 2005,and Kaixin,launched in 2008,are Facebook-like. Sina Weibo,launched in 2008,is a microblogging site,as a replacement for Twitter. Youku,started in 2006,allows uploading of videos like YouTube. Jiepang is a location-based mobile application for the Chinese. Then there is TenCent Weibo microblogging service. Baidu is the search engine of China,its own Google,with practically all internet users accessing it for search. There are many more.

There is another point that deserves mention. Today,Google as the search engine for the entire world,with the exception of China,stores the search choices of every person; it profiles them to increase advertising revenue. Tomorrow,this wealth of data can be a weapon in the hands of the US government,in ways yet unknown. A borderless cyberspace opens immense possibilities for the US government to control opinions and other global thought processes,as has been shown by the NSA’s Prism programme.

Clearly,this is important for our own national security and to protect the privacy of Indian citizens. Even European countries are seized of the issue now. For example,Deutsche Telekom launched “email made in Germany” on August 9,to promote the Germans’ privacy protection. Encouraging Indian companies to set up social media sites and launch a search engine will go a long way to enhancing cyber and national security. Needless to say,lawful access by LEAs will have to protect the privacy of subjects under the existing and proposed privacy laws.

The writer is CEO,Data Security Council of India. Views are personal

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