Update on investigation into AV communication channels

Jun 22, 2022 | Blog, Processes by-passed, Self Governance

In the last month, the Secretariat of the Auroville Foundation (AVFO) took administrative control of most of the Auroville communication channels (Auronet, Massbulletin, the Compat forum* and Auroville email services), citing a “police complaint” based on claims of “anti-national & anti-government activities” in Auroville. To date, no information about this complaint has been released despite requests from the Working Committe (WCom) and from the Funda and Assets Management Committee (FAMC).

 

On 16th June, an update regarding the investigation was posted on Auronet by Sinduja Jagadeesh (appointed spoke person by the Secretary) on behalf of the AVFO. The update showed a marked change in tone to previous posts on the subject, seeking to reassure users that their private emails and other online spaces were not unsafe and claiming that “an atmosphere of panic was being drummed up quite purposefully”. For instance, to the concern that “the Foundation Office (FO) and its staff were prying into people’s inboxes” the post claims that “nothing could be further from the truth”. However, the AVFO has not specified how they plan to investigate “anti-national & anti-government activities” without looking into people’s inboxes.

 

The AVFO’s reasoning for the takeover shifted from the original investigation of “anti-national activities”, to the takeover as an investigation into Sysop (the previous administrators of the auroville.org.in domain). Sysop is under question because they delayed handing over the admin rights when requested by the Undersecretary. Sysop awaited instructions from the WCom & FAMC who did not give the authorisation to hand over the rights due to the absence of an appropriate legal notice and copy of the police complaint. The AVFO subsequently took control by force.

 

Amongst other claims, the AVFO stated that the results of their preliminary audit had found that “the previous Sysop admins had been reading into mail headers of different user accounts for incoming or outgoing emails over the last months” – claiming that this was a breach of users’ privacy. An email header consists mostly of technical information, accompanied by basic content such as the email title/subject, who sent it and to whom). AVFO also acknowledged that email headers are often looked into by admins for troubleshooting purposes. Astonishingly, the AVFO’s original post had an annex which contained a list of email headers from emails sent to the Working Committee during the month of May 2022. The list showed the full email IDs of the email senders as well as the email subject lines. This list in itself, having been released in a semi-public domain, is a clear breach of the users’ privacy. Accusing Sysop of breaching users’ privacy for looking into email headers while troubleshooting, and then publishing on Auronet a list of email headers is misguided, if not absurd. Later, the annex was removed from the post “at the request of a user”.

 

The AVFO’s post also claimed that the Sysop administrators were guilty of ‘cybercrimes’, as they had transferred “confidential Government of India data” from auroville.org.in servers to “obscure servers without prior authorization”. This “transfer operation” is part of a regular data backup service carried out by the Sysop team on a regular basis. It is done at the request of the various working groups and is covered by a budget released by the Budget Coordination Committee (BCC). The question of AVFO permission does not arise since AVFO accounts are not covered by this service. The Sysop team has further confirmed that no AVFO owned data has been transferred or deleted by them.

The AVFO update failed to mention the unprecedented move to censor Aurovilians on Auronet. Several users still have their access blocked or limited for unexplained reasons. It is also entirely unclear who the new Auronet administration and moderation team is since the previous team resigned.

*The Compat Forum is a long-established email forum consisting mostly of early pioneers of Auroville and other well-wishers of Auroville currently living abroad. It was a forum created in 1996 and nurtured over many years and was crucial in keeping the spirit of Auroville alive for the wider Auroville family in a broader sense. M. was the Admin/Owner of the forum until it was recently taken over by C. and L. on behalf of the AVFO. Not only was M. replaced as Admin but as of today, 21st June 2022, she has even been blocked from sending and receiving messages on the forum.