NETRA is the Indian NSA’s PRISM equivalent

If you thought the United States’ NSA (National Security Agency) was the only government agency with intrusive spying measures – you’d be wrong. Perhaps not wanting to run into the same kind of fire the US has; the Indian intelligence agencies appear to be more open about their efforts.

The project, known as NETRA (Network Traffic Analysis), will detect and capture any voice traffic which could be linked to malicious activity on software such as Skype or Google Talk.

NETRA is said to be under testing by the Indian Intelligence Bureau and Cabinet Secretariat and, if successful, will be deployed by all Indian National security agencies. Unlike PRISM, which is software-based and stores data on vast servers, NETRA is a hardware-based unit which is installed at an ISP level at “more than 1000” locations.

Each “node” location can store 300GB each. A quick bit of maths tells us we’re looking at the initial set-up being capable of storing 300TB of data in total. This rather pales in comparison to the NSA’s 100,000 square foot "mission critical data center" which intercepts 1.7 billion American electronic records and communications a day using 5ZB space.

Its primary objective is to help prevent terrorism with words like ‘Bomb’, ‘Attack’, and ‘Kill’ triggering the “red alert” and recording communications for later investigation between a maximum of three security agencies; including the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and Cabinet Secretariat.

The Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics (CAIR), a lab under the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) in India, is still hard at work on the project. For it to only pick-up the relevant data; the system will have to be highly-optimised.

With a population of 1.237 billion, 300TB of storage could be quite easily filled. It gives hope that the system will be used for necessary preventive measures; rather than the abusive nature in which many see the NSA as using – through taking advantage of their position.

Citizens will be concerned about how the programme could be expanded in the future into their other online communications. As Bruce Schneier, security technologist said: “There is no security without privacy. And liberty requires both security and privacy.”

This is particularly worrisome as the relevant laws in India don’t appear clear…

Forbes India reported: “India has more than around 50 different laws, rules and regulations that aim to uphold privacy and confidentiality in various domains. Unfortunately, most of those policies are very dated and do not sufficiently take into account the challenges of contemporary information societies.”

What do you think about India’s NETRA programme? Are spying programmes a necessity?


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