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Why the work culture in Indian govt offices is responsible for corporate espionage

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By Harshmeet Singh

The recent series of CBI raids in the capital, where two Government officials have been arrested, suggest that there are still a number of missing links in the recent corporate espionage cases. Government offices even in the most advanced nations are prone to information theft. Examples such as WikiLeaks and Edward Snowden are testimony to the fact that even the most technologically advanced nations in the world aren’t fully equipped to prevent the leak of confidential information.

The state of most public offices in India is appalling. The ready to implode buildings that house these offices are well known for their negligible levels of hygiene and neglect. Such features make public offices a highly unsecure space with liberal access to notorious elements.

Liberal & Unchecked offices

The offices held by the Central Government are in a comparatively better state as compared to the state department offices when it comes to keeping a check on the visitors. But with the cases of information theft from critical central Ministries making headlines, these security arrangements have certainly been proven inadequate.

The place in question, where the information theft occurred, is Shastri Bhawan which is the address to a number of significant Ministries. On any regular day, the campus of Shastri Bhawan is filled with people of influence and those wanting to meet the influential. Out of these, hardly a few would be able to explain the proper reason for their presence inside the campus. Post the leakage of classified documents from the Natural Gas Ministry and the Union Petroleum Ministry at the Shastri Bhawan, the security agencies must introspect their leniency while letting the visitors enter into classified areas.

An act of corporate world?

There is still suspense over the exact information contained in the stolen documents. According to sources,  the documents contained data on the possible future policies of the Government. Claims of national security leaks haven’t been warranted yet. But the critical timing of this theft (pre-budget weeks) has turned all the heads towards a possible corporate angle to this deed. The urge to score a quick one against their competitors by tweaking their plans according to the upcoming policies is being viewed as the possible inspiration behind this theft. For profit minded corporate, this wouldn’t be a difficult decision. With the corporate world continuing its pursuit of every possible profit, it is difficult to assume that such cases won’t repeat. However, our focus must be to minimize the reach of these notorious elements into classified areas of Government offices.

If reports are to be believed, the only security measure employed at the Shastri Bhawan was CCTVs. The keys to the offices were in possession of the office peons who were easily bribed into giving them to the conspirators. If all this is true, it implies that the documents were carelessly placed at the table or kept in open cupboards. If either scenario comes out to be true, the secretariat staff needs to be held accountable for apparent carelessness.

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Lapse of security

Based on the initial reports, it is known that the theft didn’t include high end levels of technical sophistication. Since most of the critical data was stored on the computers, the common knowledge is that the stolen information wasn’t extremely crucial to the Government decisions. If this is true, the higher official deserve a pat on their back for making use of technology and trying to store as much information in the form of soft copies as possible.

The Government must also consider extending the same security arrangements to other ministerial offices as there are at the Prime Minister’s office, to ensure that such cases of corporate espionage do not arise again.

Government’s response

Since in such cases, even the slightest of time lags can prove to be detrimental to the probe, the Government deserves accolades for its swift actions and subsequent raids that have resulted into several arrests. Further probe will answer a number of questions, including the people behind the entire conspiracy. Proper implementation of lessons from this episode and strict laws against theft of classified information would go a long way in ensuring that such episodes aren’t repeated.

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