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Lose control

Zafar Anjum | Feb. 19, 2010
In the interesting times that we find ourselves in, we seem to be asked to lose control over everything that we have.

According to some reports, e-mail companies can charge as much as US$2,500 per user account to run surveillance on the e-mail account holder. Since all such operations are run clandestinely and the government agencies are not supposed to let their activities revealed or acknowledged, e-mail companies can rake up millions of dollars in collusion with the state agencies. With the overall bugbear of security, there is not much accountability any more.

But where is the guarantee that the state machinery will not abuse this powerpower tends to corrupt anyway. The state surveillance sometimes leads to ridiculous situations. Take the recent example of the arrest of Shahzad, the alleged plotter of an Indian 9/11. The plotter, from a small town in north India, was supposed to have taken flight trainings in Bangalore. According to a report in Tehelka, an Indian weekly known for its investigative journalism, the alleged terrorist was caught after being monitored on the social networking site, Orkut.

I quote from the report: It was claimed that Shahzad was using the social networking site Orkut to communicate with one Mirza Shadab Beg, who has been accused by security agencies of masterminding virtually every blast in the country since 2005. Allegedly, Shahzad would send regular messages to Beg on Orkut about the progress of his flying course. The alleged IB sources told the media that Beg had even left his mobile number (9990858218), asking Shahzad to call him.

The newspaper report shows holes in all allegations against this accused: he never received any pilot training, and for an alleged terrorist who had a reward of half a million rupees on his head, it is unimaginable that he would communicate on Orkut. The report says: When TEHELKA detailed this alleged plot to a senior UP ATS official, he burst out laughing at the idea that an absconder with a reward on his head would use a heavily monitored social networking site to communicate with one of the most wanted men in India, and that too without using coded language.

Drawing from their own experience, police said such open communication by members of terrorist organisations on social networking websites is simply unheard of. The chances of someone like Mirza Shadab Beg giving his number out on Orkut, they said, were next to nil.

Some people are so miffed at the privacy settings of Facebook, for example, that they have filed a class action suit against the social networking site: A class action lawsuit has been filed against Facebook over changes that the social networking site made to its privacy settings last November and December.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, alleges that the modifications have in reality reduced privacy protections for Facebook users rather than increasing it, as the company had claimed it would. Changes to the privacy settings that Facebook implemented and represented to increase User privacy had the outright opposite effect of resulting in the public dissemination of personal information that was originally private, the lawsuit claimed.


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