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India's spooks prepare to peer through their own PRISM

'NETRA' will monitor internet traffic and VoIP

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The Indian government is gearing up to switch on "NETRA", a large scale internet surveillance system that will allow its spy agencies to monitor suspicious online communications in order to detect certain keywords.

The Network Traffic Analysis system, to give NETRA its full name, will scan tweets, status updates, emails, IMs, blogs and forums, for words like “attack”, “bomb” and “kill”, according to a telecom department note seen by Indian newspaper Economic Times.

The paper claimed NETRA can also capture voice traffic containing suspicious keywords on services like Skype and Google Talk, although there was no detail on exactly how.

The system was apparently developed for the defence ministry by the Centre for Artificial Intelligence & Robotics (CAIR), a lab under India’s Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO).

Presumably in a bid to limit the kind of wide-ranging information grab that has harmed the NSA’s global reputation, the Indian government has apparently set a 300GB limit on storage for intercepted comms for three of its security agencies, rising to 400GB for the rest.

It’s unclear from the report where Netra fits with New Delhi’s much-criticised Rs.4 billion (£47.8m) Central Monitoring System (CMS), which has been hit by several operational delays.

However, it’s unlikely to help the country climb back up the charts in the online freedom stakes.

Back in October, India recorded the biggest drop in online freedom of any country according to Freedom House’s latest annual Freedom on the Net report.

Reports emerged in September that in addition to the CMS, the Centre for Development of Telematics (C-DoT) had deployed a secret intercept system located at the international gateways of several large ISPs, in a move which violated the government’s own privacy laws.

According to ET, NETRA, and presumably these other intercept systems, will eventually feed into a national internet scanning and co-ordination centre. ®

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