CHENNAI: If you think FBI’s super sleuths in Hollywood movies alone have amazing technical abilities like hacking into any mobile phone or computer across the globe and read even encrypted messages, think again.
The Tamil Nadu police too may be as much, or more, capable of eavesdropping the content of your cell phone or hard disks. It may have already installed malware in your devices allowing the police to secretly read their content, even when you travel abroad or are not connected to the internet.
The recent documents leaked by Wikileaks, the international whistle-blower website, suggests that the SB CID, the intelligence wing of Tamil Nadu police, was actively negotiating in early 2011 with an Italy-based company to buy a “Remote Control System”.
The leaked mails of the Italian company, Hacking Team, even suggests that the company officials flew to Chennai in March 2011 to give the SB CID police officers a demo of their highly intrusive surveillance system.
The company has been selling highly advanced surveillance systems to government agencies across the world. It had already been chastised by the international press for selling highly intrusive and unaccountable surveillance systems to different governments.
The website of the Italian company explains that the “Remote Control System” allows by-passing encryption, collecting relevant data out of any device, and keep monitoring targets wherever they are, even outside the monitoring domain (meaning geographic boundary of the country).
Express has not been able to independently verify the authenticity of the leaked mails, which also do not say if the SB CID has bought the system after the negotiations. The Tamil Nadu police has also not put out in the public domain whether it is investing in such a system and what safeguards it has put in place to protect against abuse of such powers.
The mails suggests the negotiations began in January 2011 when an officer wrote to the Italian company on behalf of the “Inspector General of Police, Intelligence, Chennai” from the mail id: “SB CID Computer Cell [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]”.
Subsequently, an officer referred to as “Mr Radhakrishnan” had met the Hacking Team’s officials at the “ISS World Training Conference”, Dubai the next month.
“Referring to the talk that we had with Mr. Radhakrishnan during ISS Dubai, we would like to confirm the meeting in Chennai on 10th of March at 11.00 a.m. Would you please provide us an internet leased line and a high resolution projector (1024x800)? Moreover, it will be useful if you can anticipate your main requirements/needs. Please confirm from your side,” wrote back Marco Bettini, a sales manager of Hacking Team on February 24, 2011.
On March 3, the same official had written a mail giving details of the persons visiting Chennai, their place of stay and their requirements for the demo. Another mail suggested that Hacking Team officials had planned to give a similar demo of the surveillance system in Delhi to Central agencies.
Analysis of the leaked mails also suggests that the Tamil Nadu police is a pioneer in acquiring such advanced and intrusive surveillance systems. A leaked mail shows that only three years later, in 2014, other state police - Andhra Pradesh Police(Special Intelligence Branch), Karnataka Police(Intelligence Branch), Gujarat Police (Intelligence), Delhi Police (Special Branch & Economic Offence Wing) and Mumbai Police (Anti Terrorist Squad) - and also the Cabinet Secretariat (Government of India) were negotiating with the Italian company for a demo of the “Remote Control System”.
“Hi Daniel, never met those clients. In the past, I met Chennai Police (Intelligence Branch), Hyderabad Police (Intelligence Branch), Kolkata Police (Intelligence Branch) and Ministry of Interior,” wrote Marco Bettini in a mail dated January 3, 2014 pointing to the familiarity of officials with the Tamil Nadu police.