Two articles in today’s post – the first is from “The Telegraph” (UK) and talks about the death of the telegram.
EBG6NYSM4VCJEven as the United States’ PRISM cyber-snooping program is raising alarm across the world, India is in the midst of setting up a similar program designed to collect intelligence via the internet domestically.
Yep. Telegrams are still being sent in India but not for much longer.
The second article, from “The Diplomat” website, is about a topic that’s been making a lot of headlines recently – surveillance by the state (can you say NSA boys and girls!!):
End of an era. Stop. India scraps the telegram. Stop.
In years gone by, the arrival of a telegram could make the heart skip a beat or the stomach tighten. Was there terrible news of a son at war on foreign shores or a declaration of love from a suitor?
A derelict name board for the Bangalore Telegraph office lies on the ground outside the telecommunications office Photo: AFP
By Barney Henderson, Dean Nelson in New Delhi6:23PM BST 13 Jun 2013
In India, it was the technological breakthrough that revolutionised
communications across what was then the vast British Raj – expediting the East India Company's total commercial dominance of the country, helping to suppress the 1857 uprising and providing newspaper readers in Britain with regular updates from the Empire.
However, after 163 years, the days of the telegram – or taar in Hindi – are coming to an end with the dawn of the age of text messages and emails reaching India's rural poor for the first time.
More than 900,000 Indians now own mobile phones and 120 million people use the internet – figures that are expected to rocket in the coming years.
India is the last country in the world to use the telegram on such a large scale, but officials said the service, operated by the government-owned telecom giant BSNL, had run up losses of more than £2 billion and the government stated it was no longer willing to bear the cost for what had become "nostalgia".
"Currently, we send only about 5,000 telegrams per day," said a BSNL official.
"That's down from several hundred thousand a day before the advent of the fax machine."
Over the past decade, several countries have phased out telegram services. In Britain, telegrams are operated by a private company, but are marketed as retro greeting cards or invitations. Centenarians still receive a telegram from the Queen on their birthday. In the US, the main service provided by Western Union was shut down in 2006. Services of varying scales are still provided in Russia, Germany and Canada among other countries.
An antique telegraph transmitter key, right, and a telegraph receiver (AFP)
The last telegram to be sent in India on July 15 will use similar technology as the first, which was successfully transmitted over the 13 and a half miles between Calcutta and Diamond Harbour – on the banks of the Hooghly river – in 1850.
Its use in India was pioneered by William O'Shaughnessy, a surgeon and inventor. While the world's first ever telegram was sent by Samuel F.B. Morse in Washington DC in 1844, O'Shaughnessy was apparently unaware of Morse's work and used a different code to send a message by transmitting electric signals over long distances.
Lord Dalhousie, the Governor of India, recognised the potential of telegrams and authorised O'Shaughnessy to build a 27-mile line near Calcutta.
By 1856, the network stretched 4000 miles across the British Raj, connecting the strategically vital cities of Calcutta, Agra, Bombay, Peshawar, and Madras.
The next year, the telegram helped the British violently subdue the Indian Rebellion 1857, with one captured Indian soldier, on his way to the gallows, reportedly pointing at the telegram device and stating: "There is the accursed string that strangles us."
"The telegraph allowed the British to relay info across large parts of India in almost real time. This leap in communications proved decisive," said BK Syngal, former chairman of VSNL, which had the mandate to send telegrams overseas till 2002.
In October 1947, Jawaharlal Nehru sent a telegram to the then British Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, surmising India's views on Kashmir – in 163 words.
John Lienhard, from the University of Houston, writes: "Question nineteenth-century British colonialism if you will. There is much to question. But you can only admire O'Shaughnessy. He showed what one person can do by trusting the creative ability that's there to claim. He stands as a reminder that one person can make a difference."
By Zachary Keck
The Hindu reports that the India government is creating a centralized mechanism to coordinate and analyze information gathered from internet accounts throughout the country. The mechanism will be called the National Cyber Coordination Centre [NCCC].
“The federal Internet scanning agency will give law enforcement agencies direct access to all Internet accounts, be it your e-mails, blogs or social networking data,” the Hindu reported, referring to the NCCC.
A classified government “note” that The Hindu obtained explains the NCCC in this way:
“The NCCC will collect, integrate and scan [Internet] traffic data from different gateway routers of major ISPs at a centralised location for analysis, international gateway traffic and domestic traffic will be aggregated separately … The NCCC will facilitate real-time assessment of cyber security threats in the country and generate actionable reports/alerts for proactive actions by the concerned agencies”
NDTV, however, reports that the NCCC will not target individuals but rather will seek to access threats to India’s cyber infrastructure as a whole.
“The new system will look for unusual data flow to identify and access cyber threats and not individual data,” NDTV reported, citing unnamed government officials.
But the Hindustan Times reports that Indian authorities have long used meta-data to track potential cyber threats inside the country. According to that paper, the program does not allow Indian authorities to access actual content, but rather look for “patterns in the manner emails, phone calls and SMSes are sent and delivered.”
It’s unclear how much the NCCC would expand this authority and in which ways, if at all.
One purpose of the NCCC seems to be simply trying to coordinate the different activities of government agencies tasked with elements of cybersecurity.
During a speech last month, Prime Minister Singh briefly alluded to the then-forthcoming NCCC, “We are implementing a national architecture for cyber security and have taken steps to create an office of a national cyber security coordinator.”
Among the agencies that are rumored to comprise the NCCC are the National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS), Intelligence Bureau (IB), Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In), National Technical Research Organization (NTRO), Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO), DIARA, Department of Telecommunications, and the different Indian military services.
Beyond government agencies, the NCCC will reportedly rely heavily on private sector cooperation. The Hindu report claimed that the NCCC “would be in virtual contact with the control room of all ISPs [Internet Service Providers] to scan traffic within the country, flowing at the point of entry and exit, including international gateway.”
India’s military is also in the process of creating a separate command dedicated to cyber issues. Late last month Defense Minister A.K. Antony told reporters that the process of setting up the cyber command was in its final stages. He added that while the government has other agencies to handle cybersecurity issues, the military’s cyber command would be concerned more with cyberwarfare.
Delhi has also been growing increasingly concerned with foreign cybersecurity threats. A report released by a Russian computer security company earlier this month said that India was a primary target of China’s cyber espionage.
Nonetheless, India’s new apparently expansive cybersecurity apparatus is likely to be treated with concern by proponents of internet freedom. Despite its status as the world’s largest democracy, India has often been the target of criticism for its censorship and monitoring of the internet, especially since it passed the Information Technology Act (ITA) in 2008, which expanded the Indian government’s authority to monitor and censor the internet.
Delhi has also come under fire for trying to force websites like Google and Facebook to pre-censor content posted by people in India.
Zachary Keck is assistant editor of The Diplomat.
Image credit: Flickr/ Michael Foley Photography