The ISRO-OPPO deal includes exchange of technical information of the NavIC messaging service so as to build rapid, ready-to-use, end-to-end application-specific solutions by integrating the messaging service with the mobile handset platforms
|The Author is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army|
A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) has recently been signed by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) with OPPO India mobile whose registered office is in Dongguan, China. Under this MoU, ISRO and OPPO India will work together on the research and further development of the NavIC messaging service. OPPO will use this NavIC based messaging service in its phones that will be sold in India in the future. Why ISRO has chosen this Chinese company for such a deal is beyond comprehension considering China’s massive mobilisation on our borders and aggressive moves.
As it is, the January to November 2021 bilateral India-China trade crossed the figure of $100 billion (up 46.4 per cent year-on-year) with a $61.5 billion surplus in China’s favour. This is despite the Chinese aggression in 2020, Chinese intrusions and China denying hundreds of square kms to our patrols plus grazing areas to locals in our own territory. Why have we permitted trade to prevail over China’s blatant aggression violating India’s territorial integrity and sovereignty? And now this ISRO-OPPO India deals creates the impression that China has penetrated our deep state resident in the government.
When Digital India was initiated, the cyber security experts had pointed out that it did not have enough cyber cover and that even state-level data could be manipulated by adversaries
The reason India developed NavIC (acronym for NAVigation with Indian Constellation - Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS), was when the Indian Military was denied access to the foreign government-controlled global navigation satellite systems by the owner countries including the US. The development of NavIC was approved by the Indian Government in May 2013 in order to have an indigenous autonomous regional satellite navigation system that generates accurate real-time positioning and timing services. NavIC system provides regional navigation services covering the Indian mainland. It also covers an area of up to 1,500 km beyond the Indian mainland. Other than location services, the NavIC technology is also capable of broadcasting short messages, or popularly known as SOS. OPPO phones currently rely on GPS and the Chinese owned Beidou global positioning services.
How does one explain ISRO signing a deal with the Chinese firm OPPO for providing NavIC (Navigation with Indian Constellation) messaging services on mobile platforms? When Digital India was initiated, the cyber security experts had pointed out that it did not have enough cyber cover and that even state-level data could be manipulated by adversaries. Ensuring requisite cyber security would have raised the costs and execution of Digital India would have been slower, perhaps in a phased manner. But the government was in a hurry and the issue of security was overlooked. The spin doctors said that no data is secure anyway, so why bother at all.
These messaging services will have military applications including warnings for nuclear, biological and chemical threats and attacks. Through OPPO India, China will be able to ‘access, interfere and alter’ the messages.
Following the MoU, OPPO India issued a press note that read, “Under our latest MoU, we will support ISRO with our industry-leading R&D capabilities to provide a seamless experience to the users of the NavIC application. In line with our vision towards ‘Make in India’, OPPO will invest in further scaling the product with its competitive and experienced R&D team to benefit our users and the government.”
The ISRO-OPPO deal includes exchange of technical information of the NavIC messaging service so as to build rapid, ready-to-use, end-to-end application-specific solutions by integrating the messaging service with the mobile handset platforms. The important issue is that these messaging services will have military applications including warnings for nuclear, biological and chemical threats and attacks. The irony is that ISRO is directly under the PMO and still this has happened. Through OPPO India, China will be able to ‘access, interfere and alter’ the messages.
China no doubt would be overjoyed but does ISRO and our national hierarchy know that under China’s National Intelligence Law and Data Security Law, OPPO is duty bound to assist the China’s Communist Party (CCP) in furthering China’s national security interests – be it OPPO India or OPPO in any other country. It is intriguing why ISRO had to ink a deal with a Chinese company amid all the noise about ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ and ‘Make in India’? Was there no other alternative – no other indigenous or foreign firm? What were the compulsions?
The queer part is that ISRO and ISRO Chairman are not responding to queries of media on the issue including whether any security audit and analysis was done before signing this MoU. There are serious concerns among officials working in the security establishment which perhaps are not being raised because ISRO is directly under the PMO. Additionally, media has quoted a senior intelligence officer posted in an Eastern country (perhaps Japan or Taiwan) questioning the move by the ISRO to enter into an MoU with OPPO India at a time when China is threatening India having fully mobilised the PLA and when the PLA killed 20 Indian soldiers in the Galwan clash during 2020. His final comment is, “This is ridiculous. The bureaucrats should have looked into it and intervened.” But it is more likely that the bureaucrats themselves have engineered this deal deliberately avoiding the security implications.
The irony is that ISRO is directly under the PMO and still this has happened.There are serious concerns among officials working in the security establishment which perhaps are not being raised because ISRO is directly under the PMO.
On January 1, 2022, the Income Tax department said that mobile phone makers Xiaomi and Oppo can be fined Rupees 1,000 crore for violating the law, underlying that inflated expenses led to a reduction of taxable profits of over 1,400 crore. After searches pan India the IT department had stated that these two companies made remittance in the nature of royalty, to and on behalf of its group companies located abroad, which aggregates to more than Rupees 5,500 crore. By not complying with regulatory mandate prescribed under the Income-Tax Act, 1961 for disclosure of transactions with associated enterprises, they are liable for penal action. The source of foreign funds is also doubtful. This is hardly surprising considering the characteristics of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and China continuously backstabbing India. Why then do we want to share our messaging services with OPPO India?
The government needs to seriously review the issue because simply saying that ‘security of messages will be ensured’ will not do. Insisting on this will indicate that something more sinister is afoot. China is way ahead of us in cyberspace and this issue cannot be taken lightly. Prudence demands that the ISRO-OPPO deal be cancelled and another alternative sought.