The Supreme Court has said its technical committee had so far received and tested 29 mobile devices suspected to be infected by Pegasus malware.
- Pegasus is a spyware developed by NSO Group, an Israeli surveillance firm that helps spies hack into phones.
- It was alleged that the government used the Israel-based spyware to snoop on journalists, parliamentarians, prominent citizens and even court staff.
- The very existence of a surveillance system, whether under a provision of law or without it, impacts the right to privacy under Article 21 and the exercise of free speech under Article 19.
- Curbing Dissent: It reflects a disturbing trend with regard to the use of hacking software against dissidents and adversaries
- In the absence of privacy, the safety of journalists, especially those whose work criticizes the government, and the personal safety of their sources is jeopardised.
- State-sponsored mass surveillance: The spyware coupled with AI can manipulate digital content in users’ smartphones. This in turn can polarize their opinion by the distant controllers.
Issues over government involvement:
- In the absence of parliamentary or judicial oversight, electronic surveillance gives the executive the power to influence both the subject of surveillance and all classes of individuals, resulting in a chilling effect on free speech.
- For Pegasus-like spyware to be used lawfully, the government would have to invoke both the IT Act and the Telegraph Act. Communication surveillance in India takes place primarily under two laws:
- Telegraph Act, 1885: It deals with interception of calls.
- Information Technology Act, 2000: It was enacted to deal with surveillance of all electronic communication, following the Supreme Court’s intervention in 1996.
- Constituting an independent high-level inquiry with credible members and experts that can restore confidence and conduct its proceedings transparently.
- The need for judicial oversight over surveillance systems in general, and judicial investigation into the Pegasus hacking, in particular, is very essential.
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