The Supreme Court took the government to task over its proposed Social Media Communications Hub, but it turns out that there was already a tool being used to track and monitor the behaviour of Indians on social media. AASMA, developed by IIIT-Delhi, has been widely used to track Indian citizens' social media activities. And now, HuffPost India has learnt that the creator of this tool is also a speaker at an international conference on enhancing privacy.
AASMA was developed by Ponnurangam Kumaraguru, associate professor, computer science, at the Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology (IIIT), Delhi. His research areas are listed as cybersecurity, privacy, and security on the IIIT website, despite the fact that over 40 government departments are now using his tool that has been licensed out for lakhs.
Kumaraguru is also listed as part of the Programme Committee/Editorial Board of the Privacy Enhancing Technologies Symposium (PETS) 2019, an international conference that will take place in July 2019 in Stockholm, Sweden. The conference will bring privacy experts from around the world to discuss advances in research on privacy technologies.
HuffPost India reached out to both Kumaraguru and the PETS organisers to ask if they saw any conflict between his role in creating a surveillance tool for the government, and research into privacy. Although Kumaraguru has not responded to two emails from HuffPost India, the programme co-chairs and co-editors-in-chief of the symposium have responded to say that they are now carrying out an investigation to better understand the nature of Kumaraguru's work for the government.
Thank you for bringing this issue to our attention. We have recently been made aware of this situation.
The Proceedings on Privacy Enhancing Technologies journal encourages research on all aspects of privacy, including attacks and potential of new technologies for surveillance. This is key to improve our understanding of the digital world in order to inform the design of better privacy-preserving technologies. However, by no means we condone or endorse the use of academic research outputs to build tools that are used to perform massive surveillance.
We are currently conducting an internal investigation on the subject to better understand the nature of Prof. Kumaraguru's collaboration with the Indian government.
Kostas Chatzikokolakis and Carmela Troncoso
Program Co-Chairs of PETS 2019 and Co-Editors-in-Chief of PoPETs