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Ashwini Kumar asked: How do national security structures of any country strike a balance between surveillance and privacy? How far CMS fits into it?

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  • Cherian Samuel replies: Surveillance has always been an essential function of a government, carried out through its intelligence agencies. On balance, it has been seen that people are willing to forego their privacy to a considerable extent in return for security. At the same time, privacy is increasingly seen as an individual right and governments have had to walk a fine line between intruding into the individual’s space in the interest of national security and ensuring that privacy rights are not trampled upon in the process.

    Cyberspace has brought a new dimension to this dilemma in that governments, if they so desire, can obtain a veritable deluge of information ranging from communication to location records. There is a legitimate concern that such untrammelled power has the potential to be misused. Checks and balances in the form of minimisation and oversight procedures have not been able to cope with the data deluge. While a global debate is on in the wake of the Snowden revelations about the US and other countries using the current dominant positions of their internet companies to collect intelligence, countermeasures might result in a reduction in external surveillance, not necessarily internal monitoring.

    The Central Monitoring Service is currently an open source intelligence gathering service under the National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO). While there have been reports that the CMS has also been tasked with analysing internet content, the establishment of such a system is still in the early stages, and in no way compares with the scale and size of the surveillance capabilities of the US National Security Agency.