That’s what friends are for

“We have beaten back the spirited challenge from other BRICS nations.”

It was evening. As per long-established tradition, during the days Parliament is in session, daytime adversaries met informally in the evening. Their concern for the common man had led to the daytime debate being continued in the evening, normally a time for conciliation. The Minister for IT and Telecom was the star of the show, after having ably quelled what had, at first, appeared to be a logical and well-meaning challenge, mounted to protect the interests of the common man. He was holding forth once again.

(see post: Only snooping around)

“In the secret surveillance programme carried out by NSA (National Security Agency) of the US, we are now the most spied upon BRICS nation. India stands fifth overall, only after Iran, Syria, Pakistan and Afghanistan, but with active connivance of the government we will inch towards the top spot. Let nobody say that India is no.1 only in corruption and population growth”, the Minister said to the sound of clapping.

“What do you think will come out of all this anyway? Without meaning any disrespect, till the time Americans run this, we have nothing to worry about. Poring through tonnes of data this exercise generates is painstaking work. Who do you think has the stomach for it? You guessed it; only our countrymen. Especially when they are in a foreign country, and paid in dollars. This will create job opportunities for scores of graduates from our well-known educational institutions. Have you any idea how many peoples’ dreams of going to America this project will fulfil?”

Opposition members knew. They had already calculated. They could see new job avenues opening up for their near and dear ones. The ones not cut out for a career in politics; the educated ones that is.

The Minister continued, “We will need to start worrying about the data when Indians start running the show. We know how effective Indians are in pulling down other Indians. The real benefits of this system will be felt only when Indians start running it, while the Americans are busy lobbying government to enact laws to get innocent taxpayers to pay for being spied upon.”

Opposition members had to grudgingly agree.

“And have you given a thought to the common man?” the Minister asked.

Opposition members looked at him blankly. They did not understand the question. None of their training and years of experience had ever required them to think of the common man.

“The common man is happy being spied upon by the US. He can proudly say he is being spied upon by the US and not by any local government. I can already see people starting to change their Resumes to reflect this accomplishment. Can you imagine the social advancement opportunity this creates? Can you imagine what this will do to the marriage market of the young men and women who can demonstrate being spied upon by the US?”

After the dressing down during the day, the opposition had been a tame lot, slinking in corners, keeping to themselves. With each revelation they were getting more and more animated. Even tame politicians can identify a sensible argument even if they cannot understand it. Their ears perked up at the question even though it was rhetorical.

“And it is really not so bad. Why, even John Kerry, during his recent tour of UAE, has said that Barack Obama ‘didn’t order all NSA snooping’. He has also said, in no uncertain terms, that the administration was close to finding out who issues orders in the country”, the Minister said with some finality.

“By the way, do you know who John Kerry is?”, he asked.

Noticing the blank look on the faces of Opposition members, he continued, “I don’t, either. They say he is an American. By the way, do you know who an American is?”

He could see their faces brighten up. They nodded vigorously. Each one of them knew who an American was. In fact most of them had an American in their immediate family who they were proud of. They knew that an American was an Indian who loudly said he did not understand Hindi, and conducted his conversations in English mainly with the help of three words, ‘gonna’, ‘wanna’ and ‘like’. They all agreed that John Kerry did not look like an American one bit. Besides, and this was damning evidence, he used more than three different words.

“And, like respectable Opposition parties, you may choose to disregard what I say, but surely you cannot disregard what John Kerry has to say about this issue. You know Americans believe everyone believes them when they say something.”

“Besides, one has to help friends, is it not?”, posed the Minister, a little softly. “What can we do? Our hands our tied. US laws allow for snooping on other countries even though US law does not apply to other countries.”

Opposition members could empathise. They knew what it was like to help a friend. On numerous occasions they had helped friends get out of jail, or escape the clutches of the law by tampering with evidence or threatening witnesses. Their friends had done the same for them on numerous occasions. There could not be a more convincing argument.

Only snooping around

“I am deeply saddened”, began the Minister for IT and Telecom, “by the aspersions that have been cast on the capability and intentions of this government, by honourable members of the Opposition.”

“Are you saying that our country has not been the target of a secret surveillance programme carried out by NSA (National Security Agency) of the US?”, a firebrand young member of the Opposition queried, before the Minister could start the next sentence.

The Minister took a sip of water from a glass placed on his table. He calmly said “No, not at all.”

A murmur of excitement buzzed through the room at this, almost insolent, declaration, and died down. The Minister continued, addressing the Lower House of Parliament, “The media will say anything. You cannot believe everything the media says.”

It was a truism. All members of Parliament knew that. Their careers and reputations were built on fuelling rumours that were picked-up by the media, and feeding off the untruths. They could not question this statement.

“Firstly, let me tell you that the US government has kept us fully in the loop, as is expected from trusted friends and allies. They have even told us that their monitoring has only involved looking at patterns and trends for indications of aberrations. This is why we have given them unfettered access allowing them to tap into computer networks of our telephony and technology companies. But we have limited their access to phone-calls, emails, video-sharing, voice-over-IPs, chats and social networking, as no other medium currently exists for communication. I can assure you that if a new medium were to come into use for any sort of communication in the future, we will limit their access even further to include that medium as well”, the Minister stated.

There was muted applause from the audience at this move which takes the security of the country so seriously that it took even future events into account.

The Minister continued after the applause had died down, “Hence, whoever has told you that it is a secret programme has obviously misled you. I suggest you check your sources of information before you question the government on such sensitive matters. Do you think we would let the security of the country and its citizens be compromised without any knowledge? Of course not. The security of the country and its citizens can be compromised only with our full knowledge and consent.”

There was an audible sigh of relief from the opposition benches. Nobody wanted nasty surprises. It was comforting to know that the government was following laid-down principles of governance.

The minister was not done.

“And I heard the word ‘surveillance’ being used in your statements, is that correct?”, the Minister roared.

The Opposition was on the run. They were scared of looking him in the eye. They had dared to insinuate that it was a secret programme and the minister had provided an adequate explanation. What else did he have up his sleeve now?

“Breach of any Indian law pertaining to the privacy of Indian citizens by surveillance is unacceptable. It would be a matter of concern for our government if intrusive data capture has been deployed against Indian citizens or government infrastructure. Don’t use that word lightly, I advise you. It has serious and sinister connotations. NSA is not carrying out surveillance. I repeat, they are not carrying out any surveillance,” the Minister concluded.

The Opposition members were just not sure of anything any more. They meekly waited for the next sentence from the Minister.

“The NSA is only doing some snooping and spying”, the Minister thundered, protected by the armour of righteousness that he had snatched from the Opposition members.

There was disarray in the Opposition ranks. Everyone was looking at everyone else, as if accusingly saying “you put me up to this embarrassment, didn’t you?”

“The government is convinced that it has not compromised the security of the country and privacy of its citizens”, the Minister continued, in a somewhat conciliatory tone, now that he had been able to convince the Opposition.

“Private calls made by citizens are safe. They are only studying data pertaining to India’s domestic politics, military plans, strategic and economic interests, including its nuclear and space programs.”

At this, the Opposition members got up and applauded whole-heartedly. The Minister had looked into each and every detail of the operation. Their private lives were, once again, clean and beyond reproach.