New Delhi: Top cyber security experts on Monday criticised the government's reported proposal to install chips in new television set-top boxes, stressing that such a move would infringe on people's right to privacy and send a wrong signal to the world.
The Information and Broadcasting (I&B) Ministry has reportedly told the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) that the step has been taken to provide data about channels watched and their duration which would help advertisers and the Directorate of Advertising and Visual Publicity (DAVP) to spend their advertising expenditure wisely.
According to the experts, the proposal has a novel objective but if implemented, it could potentially be misused.
"There are lot of other ways of knowing how people view television, but installing a chip on set-top boxes would amount to violation of right to privacy -- both personal and data privacy -- which has been declared as a fundamental right by the Supreme Court of India," Pavan Duggal, the nation's leading cyber law expert, told IANS.
"Such a chip can be used to monitor variety of other behaviours. This is especially important in view of the fact that a lot of people now-a-days use smart TVs. The chip may even reveal the browsing habits and personal preferences of such users," Duggal emphasised.
The ministry, it its proposal to TRAI, also said only those channels which are widely watched will get promoted.
"The proposal to collect viewership details of the entire population, instead of a sample as is done in the case of the present people meters, is a dangerous one as TV viewing patterns could give a lot of information about a person, their political preferences, hobbies and what not," Prasanth Sugathan at New Delhi-based Software Freedom Law Centre (SFLC.in), a non-profit organisation, told IANS.
People meters are now used with the consent of the users.
"A chip embedded on a set-top box will be mandatory and could result in collation of data from the entire population," Sugathan added.
If viewership detail of each household is going to be measured, the set-top box could soon become a surveillance device akin to the "Orwellian Telescreen".
According to Duggal, there will be concerns about use of the data collected by the chip for other purposes.
"The ministry should restrain itself from engaging in any activity that runs contrary to the Information and Technology Act and other acts. Given that we are a democracy, such a move would send a wrong signal to the world and jeopardise our international reputation," Duggal noted.
According to Ankush Johar, Director at security solutions firm Infosec Ventures, before implementing such measures, the authorities must pre-emptively make sure that the collection of data is completely foolproof.
"More importantly, this data, when stored on the servers, is kept out of reach of malicious actors and even insider threats instead of implementing security measures after data is sold in the underground markets," Johar told IANS.
The I&B Ministry recently came under sharp criticism when it issued a release that threatened to take away the accreditation of journalists involved in producing "fake news".
The order was later withdrawn by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
"If each person's TV viewing pattern is going to be stored and analysed, it will be a violation of citizen's right to privacy as the government has no business to know what a person is reading or watching in the comfort of his home," Sugathan emphasised.