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In Hans Christian Andersen’s hilariously vindictive The Emperor’s New Clothes, is documented the tale of a vainglorious Emperor who gets convinced by two tailors (swindlers, in reality) that the royally high-priced and most unique clothes they were selling him could be seen only by individuals who weren’t plain stupid or only by those worthy of the positions they occupied. Of course, the Emperor couldn’t see the clothes for nuts; but for fear of being branded unworthy of his throne, he remains quiet and in fact, while being stark naked quite to the consternation of the “public-at-large”, actually wears the ‘invisible’ clothes for public functions, until a child outs the ridiculous swindle.
Quite the metaphorical self-titled emperor of Indian technical education, AICTE (All India Council for Technical Education), in its apparently angst-driven drive to “maintain transparency”, came out with a public notice during early May 2012 in leading dailies and on the internet exhorting educational institutions and “public-at-large” to e-mail their complaints/grievances regarding ‘expert’ visits for evaluation of “physical and academic infrastructural facilities”. Bizarrely, instead of asking the so named “public-at-large” to email these highly confidential complaints to their internal servers, the AICTE officials have quite judiciously asked the public to send them an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Without doubt, either the apparently ‘technically educated’ AICTE officials involved in this issue have no sense of how feeble internet security levels are at third party email service providers, or the great emperor has been plain swindled by the firms/technicians/tailors who provide them outsourced internet email support.
The rip roaring AICTE transparency drive doesn’t end here. For example, if one were to just look at http://www.aicte-india.org/office.htm to chance upon the email addresses used by AICTE’s “Regional Offices”, it would be quite clear how AICTE uses four Gmail accounts, two Yahoo! accounts, one Rediff account and one Hotmail account out of the eight email accounts mentioned. And what about email accounts created with their own domain server addresses? None whatsoever that we could see. You could be laughing your sides off on the floor and they couldn’t care less.
How can a government institution believe in the security levels of email service providers headquartered in the US? And those too companies that have to comply – like other US firms – with the USA PATRIOT Act of 2001, which forces them to share with the US government each and every detail that they may so require from any email account or internet repository. This visibly suicidal practice is prevalent in many other government agencies. As per popular media reports, even the PMO used a Hotmail account to issue a statement soon after the Mumbai serial bomb blasts. The website of the Ministry of Personnel, Public grievance and Pensions, shows around 14 Gmail accounts, 32 Yahoo! accounts and 11 Hotmail accounts under the tab ‘Delhi Official Directory’. Three Rediff accounts are listed as official e-mail addresses of members of the Cabinet Secretariat, Department of Atomic Energy (that features Manmohan Singh as the first name). The situation is similar with the Department of Space, Election Commission of India, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Chemicals & Fertilizers, UPSC, President & Vice President – Secretariat, PMO, Planning Commission, Civil Aviation, Coal and almost all other important departments and ministries. You name the ministry, and we’ll show you how ridiculous the email situation has become now. Given the situation, one prays fervently that the nuclear launch codes hopefully are not stored by the North Block on a Facebook account.
It’s a paradox that while on one hand, the Indian government is so particular about data and information privacy, and on the other hand, they are continuing to place their trust on such charlatan email service providers. Somebody has to tell the Emperor that rather than roaming around stark naked in the county with all the bountiful State secrets on show under a supposedly invisible veil of a third party email service provider, it’s time to cover up confidential and official information in a manner that saves us the blushes.
If you have feedback on this story, please write directly to the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission of India and ask him to instruct government officers to stop using such email addresses. Oh yes, the email address you should write to is email@example.com. That’s the official email address they’ve listed on the Planning Commission’s website.
By:- Sray Agarwal
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