THE outrage over the disclosure that a spyware developed by an Israeli firm was used to conduct illegal surveillance on Indian citizens has now reached a Parliamentary Standing Committee. Those targeted want to know which agencies carried out the surveillance, if sections of the state or Central government were involved and if public money was spent on it, especially when the government initially said it did not have the information. The disclosure takes place even as the government plans to regulate social media because of the ‘disruptions’ it can cause. A case in this connection is before the Supreme Court. The alarm over the incident is all the more because of its surreptitious nature, especially when Pegasus is said to have been used by Saudi Arabia to keep a watch on journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was murdered. Technology can be a boon or bane. It has facilitated the spread of information and boosted connectivity, but has also seen concerns arising out of the spread of fake news, resulting in social disharmony. The Israeli firm, on its part, has claimed that the technology has helped check terrorism and helped in search and rescue operations.
Snooping is not new. From the Watergate scandal to the revelations about the monitoring of political leaders in the wake of Chandra Shekhar’s allegations against VP Singh, and more recently, when Pranab Mukherjee as Finance Minister complained about his office being bugged. The SC in 2017 declared right to privacy an intrinsic part of the right to life and personal liberty, saying that interception may be desirable, but it cannot be unregulated. A year later, the then Union Home Secretary, the competent authority, authorised 10 agencies to intercept, monitor and decrypt information generated, transmitted, received or stored in any computer resource under Section 69 of the IT Act.
While security concerns are there, the government should ensure it does not compromise the security of its citizens, despite the justification, as it entails risks. As the BN Srikrishna Committee report on data protection observed, it should pass the test of necessity, proportionality and due process to ensure transparency.