India has asked telecom companies managing the undersea internet cables and their landing zones, to install tools that can sniff, record and surveil internet traffic flowing through these cables, a report by Financial Times said.
The report highlights that the Indian government has put mass surveillance equipment and tools at the landing zones where undersea cables of the global network connect with the local network of the country.
The Indian government has asked telecom companies like Airtel, Jio and BSNL to install such tools that can scoop the data for surveillance by any organisation or agency that has access to this data.
“Every day, reams of personal data flow through the subsea cable landing stations that have proliferated around India’s coastline. In each of these, innocuous-looking hardware is installed to search, copy and pump that data to Indian security agencies on demand, with the help of AI [artificial intelligence] and data analytics,” notes the report by the Financial Times.
In an attempt to get the hardware needed to sniff data, India has attracted global companies that are hoping to sell surveillance tools. Companies like Vehere, a local Indian firm, as well as Israeli companies such as Cognyte and Septier are supplying the necessary tools to allow the Indian government for internet traffic surveillance.
In 2021, Meta alleged that Cognyte was one of the many companies whose services were being used to track journalists and politicians in multiple countries, however, Indian was not mentioned. Septier was also among the companies deemed a “potentially irresponsible proliferator” by the Atlantic Council in 2021.
While the Indian government has not official acknowledged, reportedly the country has deployed the Pegasus spyware of an Israeli company. The deployment of the hacking tool triggered a political scandal when it was found on the phones of journalists and activists in 2019 and 2021.
Deep-packet sniffing potentially allows governments to read emails, look into metadata of web calls and see other internet traffic flowing in and out of the country.
Almost all governments in the world, which carry out mass surveillance, monitor data flowing through undersea cable landing zones in their countries.