Internet Usage In India
India surpasses Japan to become the world’s third-largest user of the Internet. Reuters

Among the countries that were subjected to prying by the National Security Agency, or NSA, India was one of its top five targets, and ranked above other BRICS bloc economies such as China, Russia and Brazil, which were also reported to have been under the scanner of the U.S. government agency.

Contrary to NSA’s claims that it filters communication to counter terrorism, the agency intercepted data pertaining to India’s domestic politics, and strategic and economic interests, including its nuclear and space programs, by tapping into computer networks of technology companies that provide Internet communication services such as email, video-sharing, voice-over-IPs, chats and social networking, The Hindu newspaper reported on Monday, citing classified documents obtained by Edward Snowden.

“As politics, space and nuclear are mentioned as “end products” in this document, it means that emails, texts and phones of important people related to these fields were constantly monitored and intelligence was taken from them, and then the NSA prepared official reports on the basis of raw intelligence. It means, they are listening in real time to what our political leaders, bureaucrats and scientists are communicating with each other,” an Indian intelligence official told The Hindu, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The report contradicts a statement made by Secretary of State John Kerry on June 24, when he visited New Delhi, stressing that the NSA does not intercept individual emails or listen to people’s telephone communication.

“It does not look at individual emails. It does not listen to people’s telephone conversation. It is a random survey by computers of anybody’s telephone, of just the numbers and not even the names,” Kerry had said, according to a report by Press Trust of India, or PTI.

NSA’s color-coded “global heat maps,” -- a pictographic portrayal of the extent of its surveillance around the world, ranging from green, depicting the least amount of monitoring, to red, indicating the highest level of surveillance -- showed India in “shades of deep orange to red,” while China, Russia and Brazil, were in green or yellow zones, The Hindu reported.

In one of the maps, based on the amount of telephone and email communication data collected by the agency, Iran was shown as the primary target, warranting 14 billion reports, followed by Pakistan (13.5 billion), Jordan (12.7 billion), Egypt (7.6 billion) and India (6.3 billion).

In another heat map that depicted the extent of Internet surveillance, India was behind top targets, Iran and Pakistan, both shown in red, but above China and the U.S., which were shown in orange. In yet another map that showed surveillance of telephone communication, India was subjected to the same level of spying as Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Venezuela, all of which were depicted in orange, while other BRICS nations were shown in green.

Kapil Sibal, India’s minister of communication and information technology, said on Aug. 23 that breach of any Indian law pertaining to the privacy of Indian citizens by surveillance was “unacceptable.”

“It would be a matter of concern for government if intrusive data capture has been deployed against Indian citizens or government infrastructure. Government has clearly conveyed these concerns to the US government,” Sibal said at the time, according to PTI.

India operates its own centralized domestic surveillance operation, unveiled in April, and the system's usage of intercepted data, and its authorization procedures and legal standards have been criticized by rights groups.