India should amend the existing IT laws to protect free speech and expression, a prominent human rights group said on Friday, as it warned against any surveillance system that might chill people's willingness to share opinions and information.
"The authorities should amend the existing Information Technology Act and rules to protect free speech and expression, and be fully transparent about any surveillance system that might chill people's willingness to share opinions and information," said Cynthia Wong, a senior Internet researcher at New York-based Human Rights Watch.
"The Indian government's centralised monitoring is chilling, given its reckless and irresponsible use of the sedition and Internet laws," Wong said.
In April 2013, the Indian government began rolling out the Central Monitoring System (CMS), which will enable the government to monitor all phone and Internet communications in the country, the HRW said.
The CMS will provide centralised access to the country's telecommunications network and facilitate direct monitoring of phone calls, text messages, and Internet use by government agencies, bypassing service providers, it noted.
The HRW alleged that India has released very little information about what agencies will have access to the system, who may authorise surveillance, and what legal standards must be met to intercept various kinds of data or communications.
India does not have a privacy law to protect against arbitrary intrusions on privacy, which might have addressed some of these issues, it said.
Because the CMS was created without parliamentary approval, the government should convene a full public debate about the intended use of the system before proceeding, the Human Rights Watch demanded.
"Surveillance tools are often used by governments and bureaucrats for political reasons instead of security purposes, and often in a covert way that violates human rights," Wong said.
"If India doesn't want to look like an authoritarian regime, it needs to be transparent about who will be authorised to collect data, what data will be collected, how it will be used, and how the right to privacy will be protected," he added.