Modi Government’s Repeated Attempts to Set up a Surveillance State

Surveillance through internet
Surveillance State

Forced Aadhar Linking, Surveillance Hub, Monitoring Media, and Now the DNA Bill

The Big Brother is Watching You

1984, George Orwell

The best way to take control over a people and control them utterly is to take a little of their freedom at a time, to erode rights by a thousand tiny and almost imperceptible reductions. In this way, the people will not see those rights and freedoms being removed until past the point at which these changes cannot be reversed

Wilfully Ignorant, Pat Milner

Imagine a world of mass surveillance, where the government has access to each and every aspect of human life: even to our facial and body features, our hair, our fingerprints. It knows everything about us, every single private detail. In this world, it can monitor and control our life and our movements through this extensive database it has created. Sounds unreal? That is precisely what the Modi government is moving towards, through the recently introduced DNA Bill. Known as the DNA Technology (Use and Application) Regulation Bill 2018, this proposed legislation was introduced earlier this month. This Bill is in fact the latest in the many efforts of the Modi government to create a Database State, and to use this to create a Surveillance State!

People have been literally forced by the government to enter the Aadhar database. More and more parts of our life are now linked to Aadhar. Yet, the government does not care about the consequences. Apart from serious coercion, there is NO serious protection of the Aadhar data. Over the past few years, we have been alerted to several leaks of Aadhar numbers and information stored in the Aadhar database. For the Modi government, the rights and security of common citizens simply does not matter!  When the Supreme Court (SC) was hearing the Puttaswamy case related to Aadhar and Right to Privacy, the Attorney General K K Venugopal, representing the Modi government, argued that “privacy was NOT a fundamental right”(on 27 July, 2017).  It must be noted, that the 9 Judge Constitutional Bench of the SC ruled AGAINST the government’s position and affirmed the right to privacy.

The Modi government of course has no plans to learn from the rap on its knuckles it received from the SC. Again, in January this year the government tried to set up a ‘Social Media Communications Hub’, essentially a Surveillance Hub, in every district. Funds were allotted for this scheme, which was meant to collect extensive data on every citizen’s Whatsaap and social media activity and analyse it. This scheme was precisely designed to “mould public opinion” according to the government’s wishes. Responding to this, the Supreme Court had to once again step in to state that this snooping on private messages would create a “Surveillance State” which was not desirable.

More recently, we have come to know that the BJP monitors several media personnel throughout the country, and puts pressure on senior editors to mould the “news”! Clearly, snooping, surveillance, close monitoring and CONTROL of citizens is in the very DNA of the Modi government. The fiasco around Cambridge Analytica reveals the dangers of such a Surveillance State. The modus operandi is clear: Extensive data is quietly collected and used to create detailed profiles. These profiles are used by political forces to run campaigns and influence elections. It has been recognised across the world that such surveillance and control of private data by governments is NOT compatible with democracy. For the BJP, however, these concerns matter little. Which is why they are now trying to push through the DNA Bill.

DNA Bill: Latest Assault on our Privacy

According to this Bill (The DNA Technology (Use and Application) Regulation Bill, 2018), a massive DNA database will be set up. This database – consisting of hair, fingerprints, facial and genetic information – can be used to identify individuals. There are several dangerous features in this Bill. Firstly, there is inadequate protection of this sensitive information, and in fact the Bill is being introduced before a robust Data Protection Act! Secondly, members of the DNA Regulatory Board (which will control the DNA database) will essentially be selected by the Government. Which means that the Board will be stacked by government lackeys, who will decide the rules and control the data. Thirdly, people will have absolutely NO say over their own DNA – they will not know when and how it is being used or how long it will be stored, for instance. Fourthly, sensitive data such as caste and gender will get collected and stored along with this data. Overall, this level of surveillance and intrusion of privacy is an ideal recipe for disaster.

On 24 August last year, a 9-judge bench of Supreme Court delivered the landmark Puttaswamy judgement. It stated unambiguously that the Right to Privacy of a citizen was a fundamental right which could not be tampered with. This judgement assumes huge significance in the backdrop of the several efforts of the Modi government to collect massive amounts of data on Indian citizens. The fact of the matter is that each of these intrusions of our privacy is illegal.

In our campus too, we can see a continuum of this surveillance regime through diverse tactics of regimentation and control imposed by the Government dictated VC and admin – forcible imposition of compulsory attendance, overwhelming emphasis on biometric system and CCTV cameras, often blocking of the internet etc. JNU stands for adventure of ideas and fearless democratic culture, and the VC wants to change it (quite literally) to a campus with “army tank” and muzzle the uncomfortable questions this campus asks to the ruling regime.

As responsible citizens of this country, it is high time we defend our own rights from the Big Brother watching us. If we allow the government to control us and curb our rights, our democracy is truly in danger. And here too, we must reject and defeat all the policies and actions of regimentation imposed by the admin and defended by its’ puppets, ABVP.

We must fight for a campus and country “Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high”! 

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