Snooping is in our DNA, we only have a problem with getting caught

Voices Wednesday, April 15, 2015 - 05:30
Keeping an eye on all and sundry is a national pastime.  Everything is everybody’s business in India. We love to know what the other guy is doing. When gadgets are used it becomes professional, when the government uses them it’s official. When the government leaks the information it becomes breaking news, for a few days. Everybody has a theory. So do we, and it is this – snooping is in our DNA, we don’t really have a problem with it. The recent Bose and Nehru saga is making its way through public discourse, courts and hopefully appear in the country’s history books. Journalists who are used to be snooped on will discuss their stories and move on to the next. It is common knowledge that all governments snoop on a wide range of people including journalists. It is also common knowledge that IB and RAW officials plant stories in the media and vice-versa. In fact, journalists consciously use government snoops as regular sources for information. In a country where there is nothing like private space where does the axe fall? Add to this the use of spy cameras and telephones and that private space shrinks further. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has just announced that a new app will be developed for the Aam Aadmi to tape/record any official and send it to a central server. Politicians constantly accuse each other of spying. In the recent internal skirmishes within the AAP, Kejriwal himself was at the receiving end of a sting operation when his private conversation with a party member made way to prime time on all TV news channels. Indian Prime Minister Modi was mired in a spying controversy when media reports emerged on leaked police communications describing a snooping operation. In fact, we have a vibrant history of spying. In the Arthashastra, Kautilya recommends the elaborate use of spies for gathering information from enemy-states, but also to control state’s own vassals and bureaucrats. Kautilya’s best means for curtailing corruption within the state was to use spies. According to Maegasthenes, a Greek chronicles who traveled in India during the Maurya period, there was entire class of officers in Mauryan empire who gathered information from all over the kingdom and reported to the king. Spies and informers were everywhere, at marketplaces, religious and social gatherings, in government offices, taverns, and even in brothels. They were inside homes. Double agents were used to grab traitors and cheats. They kept a tab on ministers too. Using spies was an important tool of governance. So yes, we have never respected each other’s privacy, and our rulers have always used the state’s intelligence apparatus to spy on us, and we are OK with it. The question that begs an answer is – is this normal? Should it be normal? When you compare it to the fall of Richard Nixon, the only US President who was impeached for what started as snooping, the mind boggles. More recently, German Chancellor Angela Merkel raised a shindig when it was discovered that the US station chief in Berlin was spying on her government.  President Barack Obama made seemingly apologetic noises for spying on a NATO ally but it is futile to look further. The spying certainly preceded Obama past George W Bush to Bill Clinton and to George H.W. Bush who was the head of the CIA. Similarly to say that Russian President Vladimir Putin who was formerly head of the KGB, is a snoop is laughable. Switzerland is one of the world’s safest countries but it is also one of the most policed like many western democracies. We don’t have the answers and suspect others don’t either. The message that emerges from all sides is – don’t get caught. Just don’t get caught.
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