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    Washington Post: Privacy concerns grow in India

    The Washington Post reports that privacy questions are starting to become more prominent in India:

    The Indian government’s recent announcement that it taps nearly 300 new phones every day has sparked a debate about privacy in a country that traditionally views such concerns as an ugly offshoot of Western individualism.

    Indians tend to stress identities of family and community over any others. But a growing desire for privacy and what many say is a government assault on it are creating tension in this nation of 1.2 billion people.

    The reasons for the shift, experts say, include changing family structures and lifestyles among the urban middle class, a mass media explosion and the Internet, all coming just as the government has begun tapping more phones and using surveillance cameras in more public places.

    India’s constitution does not guarantee a right to privacy, nor does the country have a data protection law to guard against the misuse of personal information. But the government has proposed a wide-ranging privacy law, and a coalition of organizations and activists, including the newly formed advocacy group Privacy India, is trying to help shape it. […]

    “We are culturally trained to say, ‘It is not about me.’ But now public discussions about privacy are beginning to come up every time there is an attack on it,” said Ponnurangam Kumaraguru, an assistant professor at the Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology in New Delhi who is conducting a survey on Indians’ perceptions of privacy. “What is changing is that Indians are beginning to demand privacy protection for the information they share digitally, even though they are still not able to articulate a demand for privacy within the families and communities.”

    In recent years, a flurry of developments has raised concern. They include sting operations conducted by TV news networks targeting politicians; secretly recorded cellphone videos of ordinary people as well as celebrities; and the release of taped phone conversations, usually involving politicians, corporate lobbyists, journalists and businessmen. […]

    But perhaps the biggest concern here is government surveillance of ordinary citizens.

    Not unlike in the United States after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, India has undertaken a massive overhaul of its surveillance capabilities since attacks in Mumbai in November 2008. India has bought a variety of interception equipment, officials say, and has given its intelligence agencies unlimited powers to bug phone calls and e-mail.

    Last week, Mumbai officials announced that they plan to blanket the city in London-style surveillance by adding 6,000 new cameras to the existing 400.

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