How private is your email!

How private is your email!

Anoop Verma


undefinedThe befuddled government at the Centre does not seem capable of taking any decision on time or in a convincing manner. Few days ago we read in the newspapers about the government’s intention of asking all its employees to stop using Google’s Gmail for official communication. The use of Gmail by bureaucrats has increased in the past and hence the government’s decision is certainly a very late reaction. And if the government employees stop using Gmail or any other private mail service, then how will they communicate!

Are the email mail services being run by the government agencies capable of handling the emailing needs of lakhs of government employees!

India is one of the few countries in the world, where senior-most government officials continue to depend on Gmail or Yahoo even though the servers of these service providers are located out of the country. The former NSA contractor, Edward Snowden, has revealed how the US and British intelligence agencies have successfully cracked much of the online encryption relied upon by hundreds of millions of people to protect the privacy of their personal data, online transactions and emails. Communications and even online banking and medical records are easily decipherable to the government agencies in advanced countries.

On September 5, 2013, Google’s attorneys argued in a California court to the effect that it was the company’s prerogative to systematically read every email sent through its mail system. Scanning email is simply part of the business. The supporting document filed by Google in the court case says, “[Email] providers like Google must scan the emails sent to and from their systems as part of providing their services. The automated processes at issue are Google’s ordinary business practices implemented as part of providing the free Gmail service to the public.”

It is well known that Google merges information on Gmail users with information on users of Google’s other services, including search, the Picasa photo service, the Chrome browser and elsewhere. Through this strategy, the company is creating a valuable packet of information on every user of Google’s services around the world. This information can be used to generate advertisements that are targeted directly to the user. By using this strategy Google seeks to improve its advertising revenues. The common citizens might not mind how much money Google is making by way of advertisements, but if you are a government entity, you have to worry about your data getting into the hands of foreign interests or private interest groups.

  The documents leaked by Edward Snowden show that NSA may have accessed network infrastructure in many countries, including India. The concerns regarding potential security threats and data breaches is real. Even as the new policy is being formulated by the Indian government, there is no mention yet of how compliance will be ensured. It is also true that majority of users turn to Gmail and Yahoo because of the ease of use that these service providers offer. You can just go ahead and create a Gmail account for free and within minutes you are ready to communicate with anyone in the world.

When we are enjoying such plethora of state-of-the-art communication related services for free, then we have to accept that security will be compromised to a certain extent. The service providers have to make money by someway, and in this case they do it by using our data to come up with targeted advertising. For private individuals, who have nothing to hide, it does not matter much. But for the government that has so many skeletons rattling in its cupboard, it is a matter of concern.

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