The Indian security agencies knew that US National Security Agency’s (NSA) surveillance systems had been snooping, intercepting and reading emails and other supposedly secure cyber data on a regular basis since 2005-06 but could not take counter-measures due to lack of an alternative to systems like Gmail.
Interestingly, while PRISM is supposed to have started in 2007 under the Bush administration, the government’s PRISM data share had been around even earlier.
“While we did not know the name of the snoop operation (PRISM), we knew about NSA’s snooping on India since 2005-06 and that our content was being read,” a top official familiar with the developments told HT on condition of anonymity.
While countries across the globe have expressed shock at US’s intrusive activity, all this snooping on India was happening even as India and US were signing agreements elucidating ‘close’ cooperation in cyber security matters.
“US’s snooping effort came as a surprise and we kind of stumbled on to it while trying to detect something else, so we have known about it since a few years back,” said Rohit Srivastwa, information security community leader who supports and collaborates with the police on cyber crimes.
India has turned out to be the fifth most targeted country by the US, data revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden showed. Snowden was a contractor for the NSA.
“While China is usually being blamed for cyber attacks and snooping on its citizens, this is a fact of life in almost all countries across the globe. But what was striking about the PRISM operation was the expanse. Their activity was pan-globe, and therefore, huge data was being hacked into, intercepted and assessed,” the official said.
Asked why no steps were being taken to counter the US surveillance, the official said it was essentially a trade-off between using a free and stable e-mail and social media system and loss of a certain amount of privacy. “Where was the alternative? Are we capable of providing a robust mechanism such as Gmail that too for free?”