Why unchecked snooping threatens India’s democracy


WhatsApp is a popular messaging app in India

Over 500 million Indians use smartphones

Siddharth Varadarajan, co-founder of The Wire, India’s non-profit news and opinion website, said:

“This is an incredible invasion,” he said. “No one has to deal with this.”

According to media reports, Barada Rajan is one of the activists, journalists, politicians and lawyers around the world targeted by telephone spyware sold to the government by Israeli companies. Of the 50,000 leaked databases that the company’s customers are reportedly interested in, more than 300 are Indian. wire..

The Wire was one of 16 international media investigating leaked lists and the use of Pegasus spyware.

This isn’t the first time that Israeli software company NSO Group has linked Pegasus, which infects smartphones without the user’s knowledge and has access to virtually all data, to the targets of journalists and human rights activists.

In 2019, anger broke out in India and other countries after WhatsApp confirmed that some users were targeted by spyware.Total 121 users People from India, including activists, scholars and journalists, were affected by this breach. According to experts, this suggests the involvement of Indian state institutions. (WhatsApp sued NSO, claiming it was behind a cyberattack on 1,400 mobile phones involving Pegasus.)

Indeed, it’s not yet clear where the new leaked list came from, who ordered the hack, and how many phones were actually hacked.

Now, as in 2019, the NSO denies fraud, stating that the allegations have no “factual basis” and are “far from reality.” “We will continue to investigate all credible misuse claims and take appropriate action based on the results of these investigations,” a spokesperson for the company told the BBC.

Pegasus is a spyware created by the Israeli software company NSO Group.

Pegasus is a spyware created by the Israeli software company NSO Group.

Similarly, India’s Narendra Modi-led government has again denied accusations of fraudulent surveillance. The telephone is only available in India “for India’s sovereignty and integrity” by order from the Chief Executive Officer of the Federal and State Government’s Ministry of Interior. “But the process of such approval was never clear,” said Manoi Joshi, a fellow at the Delhi-based think tank observer research foundation.

During the parliamentary debate on the 2019 breach, opposition MP KK Ragesh asked the government many raised questions: how did Pegasus spyware come to India? Why were people targeted to “fight the government”? How can we believe that the government will play no role in bringing in software to snoop on domestic political leaders? Save lives and prevent criminal and terrorist acts. )

About 10 institutions in India are legally allowed to eavesdrop. The most powerful of them is the Information Bureau, which has a history of 134 years. This is the largest and most powerful information service in the country with a wide range of authority. Apart from monitoring the threat of terrorism, we will conduct a background check on high-ranking candidates such as judges. As one expert said, it monitors “political life and elections.”

Intelligence agencies have a checkered history. Federal and state governments of all political shades appear to have used them to snoop on adversaries and themselves.

In 1988, the Prime Minister of Karnataka Ramakrishna Hedge resigned after allegations that he had ordered at least 50 colleagues and rivals to tap the phone. In 1990, Chandra Shekar, who later became prime minister temporarily, claimed that the government at the time had illegally tapped the phones of 27 politicians, including himself.

In 2010, 100 telephone conversations between corporate lobbyist Niira Radia and key politicians, businessmen, and journalists recorded by tax inspectors were leaked to the media. LK Advani, the main opposition leader at the time, said the recording reminded him of the Watergate scandal.

“What is currently changing is the scale, speed, and discreteness of electronic surveillance of dissidents,” said Rohini Lakshane, an engineer and public policy researcher.

Unlike the United States, India does not have a special court that allows state agencies to monitor it. Former federal minister and parliamentarian Manish Tewari has failed to submit legislative legislation to parliament to regulate the functioning and use of power by Indian intelligence. “There is no oversight of institutions snooping on citizens. It’s time for such a law,” Tewari told me, reintroducing the bill at an ongoing session of Congress.

According to Lakshane, the latest episode points out “the scale and scope of government electronic surveillance and the lack of protective measures against such snooping.” India “is in desperate need of surveillance reform,” she said.

Congress could be confused by this controversy this week. Lakshan says it’s a good time to ask difficult questions. What happens to the intercepted data after it has been used? Where is it stored and who in the government can access it? Can anyone other than a government agency access it? What are Digital Security Measures and Safeguards?

Read more stories by Soutik Biswas