New Delhi: In a new twist to the BlackBerry controversy, the government on Wednesday said the onus of giving access to security agencies to monitor the information on these smart phones lies with the service providers, reports PTI.
Government sources said, according to the licensing conditions, the service providers are liable to put in a mechanism to allow the security agencies to intercept any conversation or message of any subscriber whenever required.
As telecom service providers like Airtel, Vodafone, Reliance Communications (RCom), the Tatas and the government-run Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) and Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd (MTNL) are offering BlackBerry services; it is the responsibility of these operators to ensure that the security agencies get access to all services they offer.
Sources further said the maker of BlackBerry phones, Research in Motion (RIM), has conveyed to the operators that services like email and voicemail can be intercepted by the security agencies but no commitment has been given to services like BlackBerry Messager.
RIM had said on Tuesday that not only the company but even operators can decipher the encrypted data on its smart phones.
"We told the service providers in categorical terms that the government will allow them to offer those services, which could be intercepted by the security agencies. If any service is not allowed to be intercepted, we will not allow them to run such services," sources said.
While expressing its inability to share access, RIM had said that the security architecture for its enterprise customers is based on a symmetric key system whereby the customers create their own key and only they possess the copy of the encryption.
"RIM does not possess a master key nor does any backdoor exist in the system that would allow RIM or any third party to gain an unauthorised access to the key or corporate data," the company had said, adding RIM, therefore, will be unable to accommodate any request for a copy of a customer's encryption key since at no time does RIM, or any wireless network operator, ever possess a copy of the key.
There are about 1 million BlackBerry subscribers registered with various operators.
Did he pay the price for bringing in some order in the functioning of certain RBI departments?
A section of the banking world, including central bankers are aghast at the extraordinary action of the Reserve Bank of India governor in stripping off Deputy Governor, Dr K C Chakrabarty of most of his portfolios. They suspect that he was the victim of a set up because he had had tried to bring in some method and order in the functioning of certain RBI departments.
In fact, there is still a lot of confusion as to whether he did or did not say the things to the media that was attributed to an 'RBI official' just after the RBI's monetary policy announcement on 28th July. The unnamed official is supposed to be Dr K C Chakrabarty. It is his allegedly ill-advised comments that led to his public humiliation. He is reported to have made two points – that "(interest) rates should have come up much higher (by now)," and how the "RBI is not the real monetary policy maker" (hinting that the Finance Ministry dictated the extent of hike).
Now, Dr Chakrabarty is indeed an outspoken man and he does evoke strong reactions from those who have met him. He is the rare banker who bagged the Deputy Governor's post without lobbying when we know how hard others lobby to get that post. His integrity and honesty is unquestioned in a system where the rot of corruption runs deep. His outspokenness makes him unpopular, especially with corporate India. Bankers say that at the traditional monetary policy meeting with bank chairmen recently, Dr Chakrabarty got into an acrimonious argument, especially with three bankers – Mr AC Mahajan (Chairman, Canara Bank), Mr M D Mallya (Chairman, Bank of Baroda) and Aditya Puri (Managing Director, HDFC Bank).
He was correctly arguing that floating rates of banks, should not favour new customers at the cost of their existing client base, merely because banks were desperate to grow their business. Even within the RBI, his fellow deputy governors are understood to have told him not to speak about issues that are not within his domain.
In other words, it is so easy to believe that Dr Chakrabarty did indeed make the frank statements that caused the bond market to lurch and slide last Thursday. Especially since he was the only Deputy Governor in Delhi that day and he did speak to the media on the sidelines of the conference as reported. The question is, did he indeed say all the things that were attributed to him, or did one correspondent from Newswire18 (of the TV18 group) deliberately exaggerate his statements and embellishing them, to be used against him? Also, why do many bankers say that someone in the RBI ensured that the rest of the media played up that particular report?
What raises suspicion is the intemperate and unprofessional nature of one particular newswire report that was picked up by many in the media to make the unnamed RBI official a villain. The news report from Newswire18 used words and adjectives such as "vitriol", "untamed hawkishness", "no holds barred attack", "loose-cannon" and "shock, anger & awe" which seem completely out of place with what the 'unnamed official' (who was purportedly Dr Chakrabarty) had said. Interestingly, only Newswire18 had an extreme, rabble-rousing tone and even quoted an unnamed bond dealer as asking if "there is a mutiny or what". Most newspapers toned down the report or had a fairly staid report that may have even gone unnoticed.
Hence, Dr Chakrabarty's many admirers and supporters (see comments on our website) think that the RBI's actions were excessively harsh, unjustified but deliberate especially since it was broadcast to the world through a press release. Could it be that an honest and purposeful and methodical Dr Chakrabarty had upset vested interests who used one particular inflammatory and slanted news report to fix him?
Observers make several pertinent arguments in support of Dr Chakrabarty. Firstly, that he is a career banker for decades and the chairman of two public sector banks before he became the Deputy Governor. This means that he knows the importance of monetary policy pronouncements and the need for circumspection. More importantly, they say, he is hardly likely to be foolish enough to alienate the Finance Minister, who would be probably have been a natural ally as a fellow Bengali.
If one were to believe Dr Chakrabarty was set up, the question is, who would do it? Sources say it is a powerful group of RBI officials, who have remained at the central office without suffering transfer for the past 15-18 years. These bankers have learned to hitch their wagon to some of the Deputy Governors to ensure they are never moved out of Mumbai. Over the past year Dr Chakrabarty initiated sweeping administrative reforms to ensure fairness in transfers and postings. This has won him many admirers, especially among RBI officials who have never managed postings in Mumbai.
He has also been insisting that those on deputation to multi-lateral agencies should follow some rules and cannot bid goodbye to the bank overseas without returning to relinquish charge. All this has not gone down well with his some of his colleagues.
While Dr Chakrabarty has probably been a victim of nasty intrigue, it was possible because RBI remains a true ivory tower, which is not subject to any external audit or scrutiny. Senior officials, especially Deputy Governors and above, are not subject to audit of their spending on programmes, lectures, seminars and off-sites. The logic used to stave off prying is that the central bank, as the monetary authority, should not be open to any questioning. It is thus easy to see why many would want a maverick Deputy Governor to be quickly cut to size and stripped off key departments like administration and HR.
What transpired between RBI governor D Subbarao and Dr Chakrabarty is known only to them, but my sources say that the deputy governor reportedly said what was attributed to him was incorrect but he had no way of proving that. The question is, in a system that does not have too many people who combine clear thinking, frankness, drive and integrity did Dr Chakrabarty deserve such public humiliation? There is near unanimity that he did not. The RBI, under D Subbarao has shown itself to be timid on many issues. So, to see it use its power and ammunition to gun down one of its own, is rather ironic.
If you thought that the current controversies plaguing the upcoming Commonwealth Games are shameful, here are a few more episodes that show that our ‘sporting bodies’ will never, ever, bow down to the law of the land
First, a re-clarification: This is an article which refers to a legal judgement. In no way is it a comment on the judgement.
In the last article (http://moneylife.in/article/78/7882.html), we spoke on how we had filed a very simple Right to Information (RTI) application with the Indian Olympics Association, asking it to please provide details of the 'dancing expenses' in Melbourne for the previous Commonwealth Games in 2006.
There we were, with a Chief Information Commission's judgement in our favour, but no information coming our way. Instead, we got veiled hints, sugar-coated threats through 'well-wishers', made all the more impressive because your correspondent used to work out of Pune and Delhi in those days. And Pune was where the favourite of the Gods really had his strengths - he simply was the permanent man from that city. And nobody, but nobody, messed with him there. Also, for the purposes of this article, it is not at all smart to even dream of making fun of anything legal. Though I do have friends who are lawyers who are riots otherwise, when not wearing black and white, or collars.
So then one day a huge big manila yellow legal envelope landed up on my doorstep. It gave me a backache, it was so heavy, because of which I also started wearing reading glasses subsequently. A few hundred pages of legal jargon, typed in that particularly interesting double spacing, with a lot of big words. I was now a Respondent in 'Indian Olympics Association versus Veeresh Malik & others'. The others appeared to be the might of the Indian government, which would scare a lot of people, except me because I grew up as a young boy at an address known as 1, Cemetery Road, which has had a marked impression on me throughout - that's also where some of us learnt how to play a version of golf. At night. So, with more bravery than sense, and without a clue, I turned to the good friend lawyer who had promised me help, and was amazed at the casual way with which he handled the big envelope. Just come back to sign things in a few days and don't worry, is what he said. He never grew up sharing a common wall with a cemetery. And he had a lot of similar-looking huge envelopes in his office, too.
Meanwhile, the judgement from the Chief Information Commission on the subject became a landmark one, being cited by many more applicants demanding information from a variety of 'public authorities' as diverse as schools, more sports associations, and others. My name started bouncing off the Internet like flubber, and the postman was impressed by the amount of Government of India mail I was getting, he thought I might be a spy. I started being approached by the media, but because the case was still in court, I stayed away. My dear friend and RTI guru, Prakash Kardaley, died very suddenly in Pune - which left me very upset, to say the least, but made me determined at the same time to proceed ahead - though with a lot of caution. (As a matter of record, I have not filed a single RTI application in my own name after that date, choosing to guide others instead. Sometimes these people are kind enough to file my RTI applications in their names for me).
The case itself meandered its way; at one stage all the other respondents (the ministry, the sports authority and the Chief Information Commission) were taking their own stands. Some supported the CIC judgement, and some challenged it, and we, of course, demanded that we simply be given the information. The actress became an even bigger star, top and bottom, also middle. At one point in the course of the trial it appeared as though everybody was suddenly not keen to press for the information - which itself was losing relevance because of the passage of time. And meanwhile, some other cases got tagged on with ours at the Honourable Delhi High Court on similar grounds, but I found that my name was always announced first. Boy, did that sound grand!!
But what stuck out was the continued reluctance on the part of the Indian Olympics Association and the Commonwealth Games organisers to agree that they were liable to the people of India under the Right to Information Act, 2005. Maybe they were under the impression that they were foreigners, and nobody had told them that India went independent in 1947, and the Queen had left. The point we tried to make was that fine, some amount of commercial secrecy and internal working may be essential, but post facto audited accounts were certainly our right - especially when over 90%-95% of the income and expenses came straight from government funds. (The rest also came the same way, but could be debated, as there were PSUs, State governments, grants and other such fine financial terms involved).
At around that time, the minister for sports changed. The quiet but resolute MS Gill replaced the voluble MS Aiyar. But as though by magic, suddenly, really suddenly, the tone of the approach from the ministry of sports changed. All of a sudden they too wanted that the RTI Act to be implemented and made applicable on the Indian Olympics Association and the Commonwealth Games organisers. And everybody else who had ever taken even a badminton shuttlecock from them without returning it.
The case went on, arguments, trials, responses and counter-replies. The Delhi High Court is air-conditioned and an impressive place. After a while I felt that there were some people who came there to listen to the arguments like others would attend seminars and conferences and debates. Even police officers have to walk carefully here, it seems. I have a friend who is a cop who told me bitterly that they didn't allow him to bring his mobile phone and wireless in and when he retired he said he was going to become a lawyer so that he could do so.
And then one day in April 2009, from the hallowed heights above, the judgement was decided. And immediately reserved. To be announced, finally, on the 7th of January 2010. Details can be found here:
Frankly, I still haven't received the information I asked for, and that's hardly relevant anymore. Fact is, all the information pertaining to the Indian Olympics Association, now has to be in the public domain, and the disclosures are falling out of the cupboards thick and fast. Whether the mainstream media will ever get into the depth of the matter, like trying to investigate how the people who run the IOA and CWG like personal fiefdoms managed to do whatever they've done, or not, is another aspect. The role of some powerful and often controversial godmen is also not being even speculated on, and the businesses they control through these people, though the truths are known even to the poorest man on the street in Pune - and beyond.
The judgement itself is being referred to as "landmark", for which I am grateful, though it is the judge and the legal system that did all the hard work. Here are some of my favourite parts:
"As our society progresses, its goals of achieving equality, social justice and furthering democratic principles remain constant; indeed, current levels of wealth disparities underline the criticality of achieving those goals for all citizens as an urgent objective.
"Today the Government, in a welfare State, is the regulator and dispenser of special services and provider of a large number of benefits. The valuables dispensed by Government take many forms, but they all share one characteristic. They are steadily taking the place of traditional forms of wealth. These valuables which derive from relationships to Government are of many kinds: leases, licenses, contracts and so forth. With the increasing magnitude and range of governmental functions as we move closer to a welfare State, more and more of our wealth consists of these new forms. Some of these forms of wealth may be in the nature of legal rights but the large majority of them are in the nature of privileges.
"A body is performing a "public function" when it seeks to achieve some collective benefit for the public or a section of the public and is accepted by the public or that section of the public as having authority to do so. Bodies therefore exercise public functions when they intervene or participate in social or economic affairs in the public interest.
The last one is very important when referring to some of the new activities carried out by entities claiming to be "privatised" but in effect performing roles of public authorities. More on that in another article on payment-processing systems.
(This is the final and concluding part of the series).
The Commonwealth Games learns that the truth is always in the numbers