[ISN] India's Odd Couple: Cops and Tech
isn at c4i.org
Thu Jan 6 06:06:30 EST 2005
By Manu Joseph
Jan. 05, 2005
MUMBAI, India -- India has a split personality. It is the Taj Mahal of
outsourcing, the great global back office and one of the largest
producers of engineering graduates. On the other hand, its law keepers
are poignantly comic enforcers and interpreters of cyberlaws.
Cybersecurity expert Raghu Raman said in 2004, police squads were
known to confiscate evidence from some offices, returning with
monitors and leaving computers behind. Computing teacher Vijay Mukhi
said two years ago cops in Mumbai seized pirated software floppies and
stapled them together as though they were documents, destroying the
A sleuth from Mumbai's high-profile Cyber Crime Investigation Cell
once told Wired News how he planned to tackle hacking: "Let hackers
know that some tough people are out here.... I have killed Naxalites
(regional terrorists who wage guerrilla warfare against police in some
Indian states) in Andhra Pradesh (a state).... We cops have seen such
tough situations that we know how to handle boys."
Last month, another incident occurred. Avnish Bajaj, an American
citizen of Indian origin who heads Baazee, a wholly owned subsidiary
of eBay, was arrested on charges of sale and distribution of
pornography. An engineering student had posted a listing on the portal
to sell an e-mail with a video attachment of a sexual act involving a
schoolgirl. Bajaj began to help the Delhi police, and even assisted in
nabbing the boy who had posted the listing. On Dec. 17, Bajaj himself
Bajaj's lawyers applied for bail equipped with a printout of the
portal's terms and conditions, which included users of Baazee vouching
that their items were legal. The engineering student had accepted the
terms and conditions by pressing the Accept button. But the court
rejected the bail application, according to an executive of the
portal, "stating that since there was no ink-based signature, it is
void." (Bajaj has subsequently been released on bail).
Mahesh Murthy, a technology investor, is shocked by the court's
attitude. "That means, according to the court, all of India's
e-commerce is illegal. The Information Technology Act that many
industry people worked to put together, so that this country could be
competent in the modern world, clearly validates electronic signature.
But the court was not aware of it."
Murthy himself has been a victim in the past. When he wanted to
register a firm called Pinstorm Online last year, the Registrar of
Companies "refused to grant me the name because the government
officials out there did not comprehend the word 'online,'" Murthy
said. "I had to change the name to Pinstorm Technologies. And, in my
detailed application in which I described my company, I had to change
the word 'internet' to 'computer network' because the officials did
not think (the) internet was a credible medium for business. They told
In July 2001, Mumbai's Cyber Crime Investigation Cell launched its
website, and a few days later it was hacked by 23-year-old Anand
Khare, who guessed passwords and used readily available hacking tools.
He pasted abusive messages about the cops, and invited them to catch
He was nabbed, along with Mahesh Mhatre, who owned the cybercafé where
Khare had executed the hacking. It was a triumph for the Cyber Crime
Investigation Cell after the public embarrassment of having its own
website defaced. The cops held a meeting of businessmen to reassure
them. A corporate executive who was present recalls a senior cop
gnashing his teeth and declaring, "If there is a cybercrime committed
in your office, just let us know. We will find him and get the
confession out of him."
Soon after his arrest, Mhatre told the media and the National Human
Rights Commission that he was hit with belts and that a senior
inspector asked him to lick his shoes. Following these allegations --
odd even by Indian standards -- Mumbai police announced they were
searching for jobs for the boys. Khare was even placed in the firm of
Mahatma Gandhi's great grandson Tushar Gandhi.
Last month, a Mumbai tabloid wanted to demonstrate that the average
Indian cop lived in a world far removed from everyday technology. It
asked a constable to use his ATM card and photographed his every step.
He did not know how to use the card and the machine swallowed it. He
was left smiling sheepishly in the final frame.
"The cop who checks your car license does not own a car," said Raghu
Raman, who heads an information security firm called Mahindra Special
Services Group. "The passport official who checks your passport does
not go abroad. The cop to whom you go to register a credit card misuse
does not own a credit card. If a cop is in no position to own a
computer, how can he fight cybercrime? The field cop (and) the beat
constable live in another world."
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