The ‘Pegasus Project’ says that over 300 verified Indian mobile telephone numbers, including those used by ministers, opposition leaders, journalists, the legal community, businessmen, government officials, scientists, rights activists and others, were targeted using spyware made by the Israeli firm, NSO Group.
In India the government can surveillance through existing laws that offer impunity for surveillance. However, there are several issues associated with the surveillance regime.
Provisions For Surveillance in India
- The Indian government for surveillance relies on existing provisions of law under the Indian Telegraph Act of 1885 and the Information Technology (IT) Act of 2000.
- These provisions are problematic and offer the government total opacity in respect of its interception and monitoring activities.
- While the provisions of the Telegraph Act relate to telephone conversations, the IT Act relates to all communications undertaken using a computer resource.
- Section 69 of the IT Act and the Interception Rules of 2009 are even more opaque than the Telegraph Act, and offer even weaker protections to the surveilled.
- No provision, however, allows the government to hack the phones of any individual since hacking of computer resources, including mobile phones and apps, is a criminal offence under the IT Act.
- Nonetheless, surveillance itself, whether under a provision of law or without it, is a gross violation of the fundamental rights of citizens.
Impacts of Surveillance
Threat to Press Freedom: Surveillance affects press freedom. In 2019, similar allegations were made about the use of Pegasus against journalists and human rights activists.
Against Right to Privacy: The very existence of a surveillance system impacts the right to privacy and the exercise of freedom of speech and personal.
Authoritarian Regime: The surveillance promotes spread of authoritarianism in the government functioning since it allows the executive to exercise a disproportionate amount of power on the citizen and impacts their personal lives.
Measures need to be taken
- Oversight By Judiciary: In order to satisfy the ideal of “due process of law”, to maintain an effective separation of powers and to fulfill the requirements of procedural safeguards and natural justice, there needs to be judicial oversight.
- Surveillance reform is the need of the hour in India as a comprehensive reform of the surveillance framework is long overdue.
- There needs to be greater transparency in the system as in the current system, Government agencies are not accountable to anyone other than the government itself.
- If the goal eg.protecting national security can be achieved by a smaller infringement upon fundamental rights, then the government is Constitutionally bound to adopt the method that does, indeed, involve minimal infringement.
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