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22nd August 1999

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Tapping for gossip not national security

Guest Column

by Victor Ivan

The telephone was once a status symbol and a luxury item. But today it's a popular means of communication. The computer too will probably become an indispensable household item before long. It may be surmised that the E-mail too will be a common mode of communication.

Although modern methods of communication are broadening people's freedom of speech and expression, a state which uses modern means of eavesdropping to listen to such communications cannot be called a democratic one. It can only be called a modern police state .

The practise of eavesdropping on telephone conversations reportedly existed in the time of the UNP too . It is reported that Chris Morris who was the BBC corespondent in Sri Lanka when J.R. Jayewardene was the president had had a telephone conversation with him. Later Lalith Athulathmudali, who was the Minister of Defence then had questioned Chris in a friendly manner on the content of the conversation. Chris was surprised and had asked Mr. Jayewardene whether he had discussed the telephone conversation with Mr. Athulathmudali. The president's immediate reply had been that someone could be a evesdropping on his conversations.

Although it is reported that there was eavesdropping on telephone conversations in the time of the UNP, it was not done through modern means. It was only possible to listen to a limited number of conversations at a time. However it is reported that the PA government has invested heavily on modernising the means of eavesdropping and now it is possible to listen to about 650 telephone conversations simultaneously.

The list of names of those whose telephone conversations have been tapped includes not only those of the opposition but also of Cabinet ministers of the PA too. It has been reported that the names of all leading journalists as well as those of some judges of the Supreme Court are also included.

It is clear that eavesdropping on telephone conversations is done with the aim of listening to gossip rather than for the purposes of ensuring national security.

Once when I met the President she was critical of the journalist Varuna Karunatilake. I had to defend him saying he was a person who had worked hard for the victory of the PA. After that discussion on Varuna I happened to meet the president again and she reminded me of the previous conversation and said that Varuna was not a trustworthy person. She then told me about something he had said in a telephone conversation with Anura Bandaranaike. It was then that I began to wonder whether the PA too was a evesdropping on telephone conversations.

Eavesdropping on telephone conversation for the purpose of investigating the activities of anti-government organisations like the LTTE which function outside the democratic framework may perhaps be justifiable, but there is no justification at all for eavesdropping on the telephone conversations of a journalist like Varuna, whatever political views he may hold. It also must be remembered that it is public funds that are used to purchase such modern equipment and pay those who are employed to use such equipment.

I had the opportunity of having a discussion with a person who worked in a special unit that had been reportedly set up after the PA came to power for the purpose of eavesdropping on telephone conversations. He admitted that in the interests of national security, even the telephone conversations of Cabinet ministers had to be tapped.

I told him that, if it was possible to tap the telephone conversations of Cabinet ministers and record them, surely he was in a position to tap and record the telephone conversations of the President herself. He was silent and did not reply. But that is the reality. On occasion though, heads of government themselves are caught in the trap set up for their opponents. That is why President J.R. Jayewardene had to tell Chris Morris there might be eavesdropping on his own telephone conversation.

Recently a minister in the government reportedly phoned up another minister to say the UNP was planning to create some serious trouble that day and told him it was essential that he attended the parliamentary sittings that day. When asked how he got the information, he reportedly said that the National Intelligence Bureau had informed him. The other minister laughed the matter off and had not attended the sittings. Surprisingly there was no serious incident as warned by the National Intelligence Service.

It is sad that in a country where there is a real threat to national security, that an institution like the National Intelligence Bureau is reportedly used to eavesdrop on political gossip, which has no reference to national security, instead of making investigations about real threats. It is a matter for regret that chiefs of institutions like the National Intelligence Service reportedly spend their time listening to gossip, and reporting to the leaders of the government to suit their tastes, while they are responsible for national security. That was probably why the National Intelligence Service did not even know who the members of the political bureau of the JVP were at the time it was launching its secret insurrection. That was why the National Intelligence Service knew nothing about the resolution to impeach President Premadasa until it was handed over to the Speaker.

The incident of tapping an E-mail sent to the leader of the opposition Ranil Wickremesinghe seems to have added another chapter to the chronicle of eavesdropping.

What this incident indicates is that not only telephone conversations but even the E- mail and fax messages are no longer confidential.

I feel that the conduct of the Minister for Science and Technology in this incident of tapping E-mail was disgraceful. He has used modern technology to tap the e- mail of a person who holds a position second only to that of the head of state in a democratic political system.

Without admitting that he had submitted such a document to the Cabinet he is reported to have asked the media not to forget that he is the Minister for Science and Technology.

This itself is an indication of the kind of distorted democracy we Sri Lankans have to live in. Mr. Weerakoon is lucky that he has been born in a country like Sri Lanka. If he had been born in a country with an advanced democracy and had become a minister and had got involved in such an incident, he would have had to give up his post and also perhaps go to prison.

We are supposed to be living in a democracy. Freedom of speech and expression is recognized in the constitution as a fundamental right.

However eavesdropping on telephone conversations and tapping E- mail and fax messages are not considered to be a violation of a fundamental right. Such a state of affairs cannot be considered democratic by any stretch of imagination. There was a time when states had the right to eavesdrop on telephone conversations and electronic messages.

In the 1890s the judicial policies in the United States had been given the right to tap telephones in the interests of national security. In 1970 it was completely banned. Today tapping a telephone is possible only in connection with investigations into very serious crime, and only with formal permission from law courts.

In England it is possible only in inquiries into a serious crime and when all other means have failed, and that too only with permission through a judicial order.

It is the duty of all those who are interested in broadening democratic freedoms to act for a change in this disgraceful state of affairs.

India catching up China population

NEW YORK— India is a country where millions of people struggle to survive on less than a dollar a day: the poverty line laid down by the World Bank and the United Nations. But, ironically, the country with an annual per capita income of less than $400 is joining the ranks of an exclusive "billionaire's club" — not in terms of wealth but in terms of sheer numbers..

India will soon be the second country, after China, to have a population of over one billion. Indian demographers say the country's population will hit the billion mark by early next year.

But the UN points out that India's population may have already reached a billion— probably last Sunday, the country's independence day..

As a result of the disagreement, some journalists have asked whether the UN "has cooked up its figures." "No, we have not," says Joseph Chamie, director of the UN Population Division. "Our calculations, based on mortality and fertility rates, are based on figures available to us."

Asked whether it is an occasion for celebration or mourning, Chamie said: "The UN is not making any value judgements. But I can tell you one thing: it is unlikely to happen again in any country in the world." According to UN projections, the world's third most populous country is the United States with a population of about 276 million..

By the year 2050, the US will have a population of about 350 million: still far below that of India or China over the next 50 years..

Even in the next 100 years, the world's third most populous country, will not reach the one billion mark. And perhaps never will..

India's population growth rate is about 1.6 percent annually. Each year, India is adding 18 million people, roughly the total population of Sri Lanka, which currently stands at about 18.5 million. According to UN projections, Sri Lanka's population will reach about 25.9 million by the year 2050..

As of July this year, China was the world's most populous nation with 1.3 billion people, according to the latest UN figures. By 2050, India will add another 530 million people to its rising population..

If the current growth rate continues, the UN expects India to overtake China by the year 2045, becoming the world's most populous nation..

Currently, India is the world's second most populous country with 998 million people, followed by the US (276 million), Indonesia (209 million), Brazil (168 million), Pakistan (152 million), Russia (147 million), Bangladesh and Japan (127 million each) and Nigeria (109 million).

As the world's second most populous country, India's population is significant— economically, socially, politically and environmentally, Chamie said..

"In any development discussion, India's population has to be taken into account," he added..

The Washington-based Worldwatch Institute, on the other hand, takes a totally different perspective of the Indian demographic milestone..

"Reaching one billion is not a cause for celebration in a country where one half of the adults are illiterate, more than half of all children are undernourished, and one third of the people live below the poverty line," according to Lester R. Brown and Brian Halwell of the Worldwatch Institute..

The two researchers say that India now spends about 2.5 percent of its gross national product (GNP) for military purposes but only 0.7 percent on health, which includes family planning..

"Unless India can quickly reorder priorities, it risks falling into a demographic dark hole, where population will begin to slow because death rates are rising," they said..

The Institute also said that India today is paying the price for its earlier indiscretions when, despite its impoverished state, it invested in costly effort to design and produce nuclear weapons and succeeded in becoming a member of the nuclear club. As a result, "it now has a nuclear arsenal capable of protecting the largest concentration of impoverished citizens on earth."

The Institute said that it may be time for India to redefine security. The principal threat now may not be military aggression from without but population growth from within..

The David and Lucille Packard Foundation, a California-based think tank, says that India faces many challenges in addressing population growth, yet there are similar stories of struggle and hope around the globe..

The Foundation said that about 30 million women in India have a need for family planning services that are not met by current programmes..

Meanwhile, the United Nations is expecting world population to overtake the 6.0 billion mark before the end of this year.

The world's six billionth baby is expected to born somewhere in October..

"Reaching this landmark is an extraordinary achievement for humanity," says Nafis Sadik, Executive Director of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA).

Indian nuclear doctrine puts Pak, US in a spot

By Adrian D'Melo, Our South Asia correspondent

The draft Indian nuclear doctrine made public on August16, has put Pakistan, the United States and NATO in a spot by reiterating India's long standing commitment not to be the first to use nuclear weapons.

"While China has committed itself to a 'no first use' doctrine, Russia has a bilateral agreement with China on no first use, and India is now saying that it will not be the first to use, the US, Pakistan and NATO have been silent on this.

"The draft Indian nuclear document thus puts tremendous pressure on Pakistan and the US to show their cards. This is one reason why the US has come out sharply against the Indian doctrine," Air Commodore Jasjit Singh, Director of the Institute of Defence Studies and Analysis (IDSA) at New Delhi, told The Sunday Times.

Commenting on the Indian doctrine and Pakistan's predictable reaction to it, State Department spokesman, Jamie Rubin repeated the US view that nuclear weapons did not contribute to the security of India and Pakistan, some thing which was stated very clearly in President Clinton's letters to the Indian and Pakistani Prime Ministers over the last weekend following the shooting down of a Pakistani naval plane by the Indians. Elaborating the Clinton doctrine, Rubin said. "We think it would be unwise to move in the direction of developing a nuclear deterrent and encouraging thereby the other country to develop a nuclear deterrent and thereby creating an action -reaction cycle that will increase the risks to both the countries."

" India has been developing this doctrine for some time since their nuclear tests in May. So the fact that they've now put it on paper is not a surprise to us. What matters - and what will matter to us and to the world and to the people in the sub-continent - is what transpires over the coming years. There are risks that we are deeply concerned about in this area," Rubin said.

The US, he went on to say, would continue to urge both India and Pakistan to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) by September this year.

Pakistan, of course, is livid. Its ambassador at the UN Disarmament Conference in Geneva, Munir Akram, warned on Thursday that India's "dangerous escalation'' in nuclear and conventional weapons categories would lead Pakistan to "boost its own reliance on nuclear capabilities." He declared that the Indian doctrine of having a land based, air based and sea based triad of nuclear forces would mean a "huge arsenal" fuelling a further nuclearisation of the sub-continent.

"Since the vast majority of India's conventional assets are deployed against Pakistan, it will be obliged to respond to the Indian build up. Moreover, the growing imbalance in conventional capabilities will intensify Pakistan's reliance on its nuclear capabilities to deter the use or threat of aggression or domination by India," Akram warned. He cited a recent US study which said India may possess 1,600 kgs of nuclear bomb making fissile material, giving it a capability to develop more than 400 nuclear warheads.

Meanwhile, Pakistan's foreign minister, Sartaj Aziz, said that Pakistan was preparing its own draft nuclear doctrine. He added that the doctrine would be based on the Strategic Nuclear Restraint Regime (SNRR) which Pakistan discussed with India in October 1998. The SNRR proposed that the DG Military Operations in the Command Control Systems (CCS) of the two countries should be on hotline. Pakistan says that nothing came out of the 1998 discussions as India showed no interest in a mutually acceptable Minimum Credible Deterrent (MCD) which the discussions presupposed. Pakistan is however studying the Indian draft and promises to come out with its own draft in a few days.

There is speculation as to what it could be like. " I doubt if it will say that Pakistan will not be the first to use nuclear weapons. What it could do is to reiterate its justification of a nuclear deterrent," IDSA Director, Air Com. Jasjit Singh said. The 'no first use' commitment will be slurred over. Even the US criticism has avoided noting India's no first use policy, because it is embarrassing.

With all this, would India sign the CTBT by Sept.24, 1999 ? "Very unlikely, though signing the CTBT does not adversely affect India's security," says Air Com. Jasjit Singh.

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