Supporting Snowden is protecting one’s privacy

There is a thin dividing line between a hero and a villain. American intelligence contractor turned fugitive Edward Snowden falls in this category. He is a hero for billions of people across the world standing for personal freedom and villain for security zealots who believe in their right to poke in everybody’s personal life anytime, anywhere.

For me, Snowden is no less than a hero, exposing how America’s National Security Agency (NSA) had turned into a peeping tom and has maintained a hawk’s eye on what common people, like you and me, do in their daily lives.

No one, including most powerful internal security agencies, have the right to be privy to someone’s personal conversation without evidence of he or she being involved in a criminal activity.  And Snowden expose shows he stood for protecting one’s privacy and is now paying a price by being stranded at Moscow airport.

A small group of Delhi’ities on Sunday afternoon would show up at India Gate to express solidarity with Snowden, a whistleblower in right essence. Like any security agency would behave the Delhi Police had been threatening the unarmed and peaceful young sympathizers of Snowden of dire consequences if they go ahead with their India Gate plan.

That has not deterred these young Indians, who are standing for every person’s right to privacy, from expressing their views on Sunday afternoon at crowded India gate. “They (police) cannot curb our voice. We are just showing sympathy with Snowden and I think that is not a crime,” one of the organizers told this correspondent on Saturday evening.

The police veil threat is the reason that an average India should show solidarity with Snowden. Or else, the same policemen would get an unlimited right to snoop into your lives like never before and harass you.

India has its own version of NSA’s Prism, called Central Monitoring System, launched on pilot basis in April this year. The CMS allows investigating agencies to get access to your emails, phone calls, web chats and so on even though the government is assuring that the agencies would get those powers only after proper authorisation.

Who would ensure this?

There have been several cases of police authorities across India tapping mobile phones of residents without any authorization or on basis of fake authorisations. Ask former Samajwadi leader Amar Singh or leader of opposition in Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley.

The intelligence agencies monitor almost every call they goes out of India to countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan. You don’t know when a cop would turn up at your doorstep and haul you for any innocuous conversation, a big danger of new found snooping tool of the security agencies.

Abheek Barman in Economic Times had an interesting article on how India had allowed safe access to leaders, whose voice was curbed in their own country. Dalai Lama in April, 1959, family of Afghan president Mohammad Najibullah in 1992, many Nepalese left leaders in 1990s and Taslima Nasreen in 2004, the article said, questioning why India had refused asylum to Snowden, who stood for protecting one’s privacy.

When Najibullah’s family was provided asylum it angered a close friend Soviet Union. Nasreen’s safe access did not please the neighbouring Bangladesh government. India even angered friendly Nepal, under monarchy then, when the Left leaders considered close to China were allowed into the country.

The same bravado in India’s foreign policy seems to be missing now.

Refusing asylum to Snowden within hours of his applying shows India is buckling under America’s pressure. So much so that foreign minister Salman Khurshid even defended American snooping in a manner, not even American bureaucrats would have done.

It also shows that the Indian government adheres to the American philosophy that privacy of a commoner has no value and it is reason that even 65 years of Independence there is no law to protect privacy of an individual. The draft been proposed by the Central government provide unhindered powers to the investigating agencies to snoop into private conversation of residents, another reason for every Indian to protest and stand with Snowden.

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