India is one of the third parties of a secret surveillance program providing data on its citizen to the United States government. According to latest documents released by the Information, a Danish publication, under Rampart-A, the code name for the global mass surveillance program, India and other countries have been providing access to the NSA.
Documents released by whistle-blower Snowden show that there are 33 third party countries in the program, of which India is one. The NSA has spent nearly $77 mn on RAMPART-A in 2011.
In 2011, the United States and India signed an Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) “to promote closer cooperation and the timely exchange of information between the organizations of their respective governments responsible for cyber security.” Medianama had reported on the Indian connection in the documents that were released.
We did some asking around. Here’s what we’ve found:
In the telecom license issued by the Department of Telecom, the service provider is required to make provision for legal interception of communication. An Israeli company called Verint provides this solution, which is a combination of hardware and software. The company has a majority market share in India.
Mid level officials (General Managers, AGMs etc) at telecom companies are tasked with overseeing this installation at each telecom hub. The solution is capable of tapping into the lines to read both voice and data. Seven intelligence agencies, including the Intelligence Bureau have access to this. However, they need a warrant to tap into the wires.
Once they produce a warrant, the telco needs to configure the solution to be able to access and show the “targets” communication. Agencies can either “fan out” calls to another device without the target knowing it or have it recorded on site to be collected later. From what we’ve heard, the solution is capable of accessing Gmail and Skype as well.
We couldn’t ascertain if this infrastructure is being used by an Indian government agency to share information with the NSA. But it is a possibility we can’t rule out.
We didn’t hear of mass surveillance being conducted but can’t be sure, considering the fact that the Central Monitoring System and other surveillance tools that the Indian government has at its disposal. The new Unified License regime for telecom service providers also gives the government cover to monitor calls, Internet traffic & everything in between.
To fully understand the capabilities of the such systems that the government has been asking for, check out this request for proposal by the Assam Police we accessed. We are talking about everything from vanilla wire taping to data mining and advanced analytics.
RAMPART Project Overview (pdf).
NO PLACE TO HIDE (pdf)