The Modi government on Tuesday ignored the question raised by DMK MP Dayanidhi Maran in the Lok Sabha on whether the former was involved in using Pegasus to snoop on Indian citizens.
Instead of giving a direct answer, the government ignored the issue and merely said that it was lawfully empowered to “intercept, monitor and decrypt” any digital information as per provisions of the Information Technology Act, 2000.
“Section 69 of the Information Technology Act, 2000 empowers the Central Government or a State Government to intercept, monitor or decrypt or cause to be intercepted or monitored or decrypted, any information generated, transmitted, received or stored in any computer resource in the interest of the sovereignty or integrity of India, security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States or public order or for preventing incitement to the commission of any cognizable offence relating to above or for investigation of any offence,” Minister for State for Home G Kishan Reddy responded.
“Similarly, Section 5 of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885 empowers lawful interception of messages on occurrence of public emergency or in the interest of public safety. This power of interception is to be exercised as per provisions of law, rules and Standard Operating Procedure (SOP). Each such case is approved by the Union Home Secretary, in case of Central Government; and by Home Secretary of the State concerned, in case of a State Government,” he added.
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However, an NGO, Internet Freedom Foundation has refuted this claim.
“The government must also clarify which law empowers it to install such spyware. To the best of our understanding and knowledge, no such power exists under Indian law, and the pre-existing surveillance powers available under the Telegraph Act, 1885 and the Information Technology Act, 2000 do not permit the installation of spyware or hacking mobile devices. Hacking of computer resources, including mobile phones and apps, is in fact a criminal offence under the Information Technology Act, 2000,” The Wire quoted the Internet Freedom Foundation as saying in a statement.
On October 31, popular messaging service WhatsApp accused an Israeli firm of using its platform for spying on around 1,400 people across the world, several people from India, including former Union Minister Praful Patel and former Lok Sabha MP Santosh Bharatiya.
WhatsApp identified as many as 41 people who were being snooped on in India, which included journalists, lawyers and human rights activists. Their phones had been under state-of-the-art surveillance for a two-week period until May 2019.
The software which came under the radar is known as Pegasus, and is developed by NSO Group. It has been learned that this malware allows almost complete control of the target’s phone, giving access to files, media, microphone and even camera.