अनिल एकलव्य ⇔ Anil Eklavya

December 31, 2011

A Challenge for RTI Activists in India

There is a major issue that most people, including activists in India have not given as much attention as it merits. That issue is of surveillance of ordinary people, especially within offices, gated societies, campuses and in some cases even independent houses. The use of electronic devices for surveillance is far more widespread than the occasionally reported phone tapping cases. Potentially, and I think in reality too, this is hampering all kind of normal activities that people can indulge in, including acts of dissidence and protest, which I think are the special target of such practices. It has come to the point where any kind of protest activity in India is being ‘nipped in the bud’, at least in urban areas. This is making all the talk about there being democracy in India a joke.

Whether or not I am wrong in saying the above, there is sufficient evidence about the potential and real misuse of surveillance devices. This is part of a worldwide trend that has intensified in the last ten years and many such cases have been reported in various countries, including by the mainstream media, which usually avoids such topics these days. One concrete, practical action that can be taken in this regard is to demand information about this under the Right to Information Act. Since I am not competent enough to do this on my own and I have no contacts of any sort whose help I can take, I challenge (or appeal, whichever way you like to see it) the RTI activists to demand this information from the government as well as corporations.

I list below some specific points which I think should form the basis for such a demand. I only write them down here as rough indicators.

  1. Has the government sanctioned the use of electronic surveillance devices against ordinary people? It yes, who gives authorisation in specific cases and on what basis? What guidelines are followed? Who verifies that these guidelines are followed? Is there any mechanism through which the targeted person can ask for justification for any such surveillance?
  2. Are these devices being used in hotels, hostels, campuses and offices? What safeguards are there against their misuse? Who looks after this? On what basis are these places identified? Are they also being used in independent houses? If yes, what are the details?
  3. Are local administrators or managers or private security agencies allowed to make their own policies regarding this, ignoring any consideration for privacy of individuals? What is the mechanism through which information can be obtained about this and how can any redressal be sought?
  4. Are there any constraints about sharing the information collected through these means? Who decides about such things? Has it become a complete free for all where any administrator or manager or private security company can collect and disseminate such information?
  5. What is the role of IT companies in this, especially outsourcing companies such as TCS, Wipro, Infoys, who have huge numbers of employees, many of whom at any given time are not engaged in productive work? Are these employees being involved in unauthorised and illegal surveillance on ordinary people? What are the details about this, how can they be obtained? If this is happening, does the government know about it and was this officially sanctioned by the government?
  6. Is the information (or any falsified/distorted version of it) collected through surveillance (by whichever agency) being used for punitive purposes against people who are seen to be (rightly or wrongly, with justification or without justification) indulging in some kind of dissidence activity such as opposing the policies of privatisation and corporatisation of everything? If yes, what is the legal basis for this?
  7. Is such information being used to disrupt services such as Internet access and electricity supply for people who are being targeted by the surveillance policies?
  8. Is such information being used to launch smear campaigns against people seen as opposed to the official or corporate policies?
  9. Is such information being used to generally “make life impossible” (as one think tank writer proudly mentioned in one of his articles: on a dissident media website, no less) for the targeted people?
  10. Is such information being given to shopkeepers, hair dressers etc., with the instructions to not provide proper services (or deny providing services) to the targeted people?
  11. Is such information being used to ensure that the targeted people are denied jobs that they apply for? Is it being used to form a kind of (formal or informal) blacklist for employment and related purposes? Is it also being used to create hindrances in the work of these people, if they do get a job.
  12. What is extent of the use of surveillance of any kind in academics? What is the purpose of such surveillance? Are students being involved in such activities as developers, system administrator and informers in general? What are the details of surveillance related projects sanctioned by the government specifically for academic institutions?
  13. To what extent are the communications service providers being used for surveillance, whether for the government or for corporations or for any other organisations?
  14. Does the government know about the use of surveillance devices by the large right-wing organisations and corporations/institutions sympathetic to them? If yes, have any steps being taken to stop this? Has there been any investigation into this?
  15. In case the answer to most of the questions above is negative, is there any mechanism to take action in case evidence is made available that would indicate that the answer to at least a few of these questions may be affirmative?

I have written the above only as initial notes. These can be refined and improved and extended. I would welcome any suggestions.

Full Disclosure: I am writing this as a person who believes that he has been a target of such practices for the last many years, although I don’t even claim to have indulged in much protest of any major significance. I am writing this almost as a last resort, having tried to ignore this issue for a long time, hoping that it would cease in due course. I don’t know what else I can do about this. Please note that being part of the ‘IT community’ in India, I am both more prone to it and also more likely to notice it.

I know how some people are going to react to it, but unless I thought it absolutely necessary (a matter of life and death), I wouldn’t have written it. I am generally not given to stick my head out easily, though I do try to call a spade a spade. I am no Bradley Manning. But I guess my head is already out.

January 16, 2011

Everybody Loves the Trauma Show

The phone rang, though I wasn’t expecting any calls at all. The call was not from any ‘contact’. I received the call, that is, I answered.

Me: Hello?

There was a girl at the other end. It seemed to be a call from a call centre. Let’s call her the Representative.

The Representative: Hello. May I talk to Mr. Anil Eklavya?

Me: I am Anil EKlavya.

The Representative: Sir, could I take some of your time?

Me: Yes, sure.

The Representative: Sir, I am calling from the LoveTrum Show…

Me: Love Trauma Show?

There was a pause at the other end. Possibly some sniggering too.

The Representative: No, sir, the LoveTrum Show.

She spelled out the name.

The Representative: The LOcal VErsion of the TRUMan Show.

Me: What is that?

The Representative: Sir, it is a kind of reality show.

Me: Reality show?

The Representative: Yes, sir. It’s a show in which the participants don’t need to be in the studio.

Me: Meaning?

The Representative: You can be in your own home and still be in this show.

Me: But I am not interested in any show. In fact, I don’t watch any T.V.

The Representative: Sir, could I take some of your time to explain in detail?

I thought for a moment and decided to let her complete. I don’t get any calls from girls anyway.

The Representative: Sir, this show is not a T.V. show. We have participants who just live in their own homes. Also, it is a multimedia muldimodal show. It includes still and moving images, audio, online activities, travel or anything else that the participant might do.

Me: You mean the whole life of someone is put on the show?

The Representative: Not always, sir. Sometimes some parts may be left out.

Me: Parts that the participant does not want to be shown?

The Representative: No, sir. The content of the show is not decided by the participant.

Me: Then who decides it?

There was a long pause.

The Representative: I am sorry, sir. I can’t help you with that.

Me: So the participant does not know when he is on the show?

The Representative: No, sir. The participant does not know that he is on the show.

Me: You mean the participant is put on the show without his knowledge or permission.

The Representative: Sir, the participant is selected after due process.

Me: Yes, but he is not told that he is being put on the show?

A pause again.

The Representative: No, sir. The participant is selected after due process.

Me: How can there be such a show?

The Representative: There is, sir.

Me: But how can it be allowed?

The Representative: It is allowed, sir.

Me: But who will watch such a show?

The Representative: The show is not watched, sir, it is followed. It is a multimedia multimodal show.

Me: OK, but who will follow such a show?

The Representative: It is a very popular show, sir. It is one of the most loved shows.

Me: I have never heard of it.

The Representative: It is an unlisted show, sir.

Me: Unlisted?

The Representative: Yes, sir. It is not publicly advertised.

Me: Then how do people follow it?

The Representative: We have a network, sir.

Me: Which company runs it?

The Representative: There is no company, sir.

Me: Then who manages it?

The Representative: It is run according to the Extended PPP model, sir.

Me: PPP model?

The Representative: The Public-Private Participation model, sir.

This time I had to pause.

Me: What if someone doesn’t want to be on the show?

The Representative: The participants don’t know that they are on the show, sir.

Me: What if they do find out?

The Representative: Don’t worry, sir. It does not affect the show.

Me: What do you mean it does not affect the show?

The Representative: The participant cannot affect the show, sir.

Me: What if he shifts from his place, home or office?

The Representative: Wherever you go, the show will follow you, sir.

Me: Me? You mean I am on the show?

This time there was a long pause.

The Representative: Yes, sir. You have been on the show for many years.

Me: What are you talking about? Many years means what?

Pause again.

The Representative: Sorry, sir, I can’t help you with that.

Me: You mean I am on the show and I can’t get out of it?

The Representative: Don’t worry, sir. The show is very popular.

Me: But I don’t want to be on the show.

The Representative: I am sorry, sir. The participant is selected after a due process.

Me: What process?

The Representative: Sorry, sir, I can’t help you with that.

Me: What kind of people would watch – follow – such a show?

The Representative: All kinds of people, sir. We have a very large and diverse following from all sections of society and from all regions. It has been certified to be beneficial for the society, the country and the world.

Me: But I am like J. D. Salinger. I am like Boo Radley. I don’t like to be on the show.

There was a very long pause this time. I thought the call got cut.

Me: Hello?

The Representative: Hello, sir. That only makes it more interesting, sir.

Me: But I don’t want to be on the show. How can I get out of it?

The Representative: I am sorry, sir. The participant is selected after a due process.

Me: What if I move to some other place?

The Representative: Wherever you go, the show will follow you, sir.

Me: What if the participant kills himself?

The Representative: As I informed you, sir, the participant doesn’t know.

Me: But you have told me just now.

The Representative: This is an exception, sir.

Me: What if the participant kills himself?

The Representative: Don’t worry, sir. Everyone has to die sooner or later.

Me: But what if the participant does kill himself?

The Representative: We have a waiting list of participants, sir.

Me: This is amazing. What if I make it public?

The Representative: That is not possible, sir.

Me: What do you mean it is not possible.

The Representative: It is an unlisted show, sir.

Me: It won’t be if I make it public.

The Representative: No one would believe it, sir.

Me: What if your call is recorded? I have your number too.

The Representative: The number does not exist, sir.

Me: What about the recorded call?

The Representative: You can record anything, sir.

Me: So, whatever I do, wherever I go, I will be on the show?

The Representative: Yes, sir.

Me: So why are you calling me?

The Representative: You have been selected for a special offer.

Me: What offer?

The Representative: You can follow someone else, sir.

Me: Someone else like me? Who is on the show?

The Representative: Yes, sir.

Me: How many people are on the show?

The Representative: I am sorry, sir, I can’t help you with that.

Me: Is there anything I can do without being on the show?

The Representative: I am sorry, sir, I can’t help you with that.

Pause from my side.

The Representative: Would you like to subscribe, sir? We have a very interesting case.

Me: No, I don’t want to follow anyone.

The Representative: Are you sure, sir?

Me: Yes, I am sure.

The Representative: Thank you very much, sir, for your time. Have a nice day. And don’t worry, sir.

The call ended and I wondered whether I had made a mistake.

August 20, 2010

A Self-Hating Anti-Semite Jew

I am not from your country, but I have been following your local version of the Truman Show. Excuse me, but is this guy of the Jewish persuasion? I ask because I have noticed that he keeps harping about the Nazis and fascism and once he even wrote “I am a Jew”. I understand that your country does have a small Jewish population.

Since he also seems to be critical of the Israeli policies and has bad mouthed respected figures like Henry Kissinger, I am of the opinion that he may be one of those self-hating anti-semite Jews who take the side of the Palestinians every time anything happens in the Middle East. The number of such people has been on the increase ever since people like Tony Judt started joining these Israel bashers and got the attention of many in the mainstream, despite all the efforts by the pro-Isreali groups in the US and elsewhere.

I wonder whether he has a record of involvement in Zionism. A number of these self-hating anti-semite Jews are known to be former Zionists of one kind or another.

I appreciate your efforts in trying to contain people like him. Who knows, perhaps he is a Holocaust denier too. Or perhaps he supports those who are, you know, like Chomsky.

Good luck to you all.

August 9, 2010

No Letup

This is to inform the followers of the show that there has not been any lack of diligence or letup from our side, as might have appeared to some. As you might have seen today, we have been on the job. As soon as there is any rising up of spirits, any getting back to work, we act swiftly to hit where it hurts to ensure that the status goes back to staring vacantly. The techniques we have been using have proved very effective. Even though we have the advantage of observing all in real time, it requires a lot of commitment from many people in many places and and in many positions to make effective use of all the information.

For our continuously successful efforts, we wish to thank all those who have been supporting us and taking part in these activities of national importance (in addition to providing entertainment). We also thank all the followers of the show who have not let petty considerations of privacy, human rights etc. come in the way of patronizing and enjoying the show.

Together we have been able to come up with very effective ways of dealing with any kind of potential subversion, even when there is little evidence, without resort to problematic use of violence or even any argument. Let us hope that all subversion (what they call dissent or resistance) will soon be either eliminated or completely confined virtually.

We won’t need any prisons.

Under such confinement, it will gradually rot away*. This will further give us an opportunity to study the process of rotting away on subjects never before studied.

*Rotting being the process of bio-degradation, it is also ecologically beneficial. Ha! Ha!

July 27, 2010

पनहद

मैंने सोचा था
कमीनेपन की
कोई तो हद
होती होगी

इसका उल्टा जानने की
मेरी कोई इच्छा नहीं थी

पर कोई मेरे घर
आकर और खाकर
ज़बरदस्ती बता गया
कि नहीं होती
एकदम नहीं होती

July 10, 2010

Potential Replacements

There has been some concern about how long can the local-Truman last. It has been asked whether, in the eventuality of his unavailability due to migration, flight or ceasure of existence, the show will continue or not. We share this concern, but we might be able to help in addressing it.

We are the co-ordinating members of the Local Intelligence Unit (LIU) in our place. As part of our national and social duties, we have been observing several noteworthy individuals. Based on our observations over the last few years, we have shortlisted a select few for special attention. These few might form a part of a shortlist of potential replacements for the show.

We believe that the LIUs in other places too might have their own shortlists. We suggest that these shortlists might be combined together and the process of selecting the replacement be initiated, so that there is no delay, in case we are suddenly faced with one of the aforementioned eventualities.

July 1, 2010

A Dose of Randomness

Predictability can indeed compromise the confidentiality aspect of the techniques being used for the show. It is not only intuitive, it is even supported by the probability theory. I know that the show is being coordinated by very competent people, but if I might be so bold as to suggest an improvement, I would like to say that introducing an element of randomness can reduce predictability significantly. We might, in fact, go further and associate randomness not just with individual events, but also with schedules. And the schedules themselves can be varied in timing, duration as well as length on the same principles. In other words, we can mix purposeful individual events (which have to occur at some specific time, either decided in advance or based on observation) with schedules that are of varying length, varying duration and continue for a varying number of days. These randomized schedules can serve as a camouflage for the purposeful events which require some confidentiality. As an additional benefit, their randomness can itself become purposeful in the same way in which the events are purposeful.

The problem can be formally studied in terms of the probability theory alone, but while implementing it in practical situations, we also need to take into account pragmatic, psychological and behavioral aspects. The latter are harder to study and require prolonged exploration that might require considerable resources. Ordinarily, i.e., under conditions different from those of the current decade, it would have been difficult to get support for such studies for a show of this kind. Fortunately, at present, we are in the midst of a security goldrush, otherwise known the terror goldrush*, that will most probably last for a long time. Therefore, it should not be difficult to get the required support. But wait, does not the said show owe its existence to the same goldrush? I think it does, but even so, we should try and get the required support and utilize it efficiently for the studies mentioned above.

* It really has terrorized the local-Truman. Ha! Ha!

So, my humble suggestion is that we should conduct these studies as expediently as possible and reduce the predictability to which the existing techniques are susceptible. Confidentiality is an important aspect and we should do everything we can to avoid it from being compromised.

June 28, 2010

A Nice Electric Game

That was a nice electric game today, though quite predictable, even for the local-Truman. The ones in the last few days were good too. But, as I said, the timing is becoming very predictable.

I don’t understand one thing though. We have quite a well oiled machinery in place and enough personnel. Then why should the effects be borne collectively when we only want to experiment on one person? After all, this show is very different from the original show where collective effects were unavoidable but also harmless. And if things become so predictable, the entertainment value might be reduced. In fact, I think even the desired effects might not materialize as much as expected. Most importantly, the confidentiality aspect might be compromised if the same techniques involving some level of visibility are overused.

Is there some plan to overcome such deficiencies? I will be happy to provide some feedbacks.

June 24, 2010

A Pussy

You must be joking!

For he’s a pussy kind of fel-low (and so say all of us).

Just consider the facts. He is so scared (of electric shocks, may be) that he has stopped cooking regularly even the faminish meals he used to cook. And he doesn’t eat out because he is scared of you know what. He has even stopped traveling and taking photographs of trees and fields from trains because he’s afraid of being reported to the police, after it happened only once! He’s so ridiculously totally completely scared that he has painted himself in the corner (though that is probably a good thing for the coordinators of the show). Can you seriously imagine him going to fight in the forest?

However, I am not saying that, as you suggested, all possible steps should not be taken from preventing this very unlikely event. Security is the paramount consideration in today’s life and we all know it. I wouldn’t want it any other way, just like any other good citizen.

But he’s a pussy and someone should go to his place and tell him that here is an interesting video that he might like.

June 22, 2010

A Hard Nut

I don’t think the local-Truman is going to do himself in and become heavenly. He is a hard nut. Techniques like electric shocks are not going to break him easily (pardon the pun). I think the symptoms that he is showing are actually of the agitation of a life-changing preparation. I am sure he is planning to join the rebels fighting in the forests. That is why he was watching all those videos about their history.

That said, I share in the opinion that the show must go on. If I am correct, he is a major security risk and he must not be allowed to bring his plan to fruition. All possible steps should be taken to avoid it.

But quite apart from the security aspect, I too will miss the show if it stops. It has added a new meaning to collaborative entertainment.

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