Did GOI just admit in Lok Sabha to using Pegasus to spy on activists?

For the past two weeks, the central government has been mum about the issue of a spyware used on Indian lawyers and human rights activists. It seems to have finally broken its silence by justifying its actions under the IT Act, while the same is being hailed as a blatant violation of constitutionally guaranteed Right to Privacy

Whatsapp snooping

When the issue of Israeli spyware being used by government to spy on certain individuals was raised in the LokSabha on the second day of its current winter session, in an unabashed response, the Minister of State in the Home Affairs Ministry Kishan Reddy said that Section 69 of the Information Technology Act (IT Act) empowers the Central Government to intercept and monitor anyone. The question was asked on the floor of the lower house by MDMK’s A Ganeshamurthi.

This statement coming from the Home Affairs Ministry today, has silenced all speculation and can be considered as a clear admission by the central government that it did in fact spy upon lawyers and human rights activists, in blatant misuse of its powers.

Only 10 agencies can tape phones: Centre

In a written reply, the central government further also said there are only 10 agencies that are authorised to tape phones in India. These include the CBI, the ED and the Intelligence Bureau. The government said these agencies have to take permission from the Union Home Secretary approval before putting anyone on surveillance.

The 10 authorities that can intercept phones in India are: Intelligence Bureau, Central Bureau of Investigation, Enforcement Directorate, Narcotics Control Bureau, Central Board of Direct Taxes, Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, National Investigation Agency, R&AW, Directorate of Signal Intelligence and Delhi Police Commissioner.

The Law

Section 69 of the IT Act deals with provisions pertaining to Power to issue directions for interception or monitoring or decryption of any information through any computer resource, whereby, the government or its authorised officers, in the interest of “sovereignty or integrity of India, defence 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” may intercept, monitor or decrypt any information generated, transmitted, received or stored in any computer resource.

Sabrang India had recently done an analysis on how vague and arbitrary are the provisions that allow interception by the government, enabling the government to justify its surveillance activities by using such vague provisions as a shield.

In October this year,WhatsApp filed a complaint in a California Court against Israel’s NSO Group, many things have unravelled. The claims of the IT Ministry that WhatsApp did not inform them about the vulnerability in their service, were countered by Whatsapp stating that besides notifying the government in May about a vulnerability in its service, it sent a letter in early September that 121 Indians were compromised by the Israeli spyware Pegasus. To this, the IT Ministry responded saying that the September letter sent to them was very vague. The government had alleged that it was disturbed that the company had not brought the privacy breach of Indian citizens to their attention during the two meetings with the minister earlier this year.

On November 1, this year, Whatsapp confirmed that NSO Group’s spyware called Pegasus was used to spy upon  journalists and human rights activists in India who were informed by Whatsapp that their phones had been under state-of-the-art surveillance for a two-week period until May 2019

After this shocking revelation, the 19 affected Indian users who were contacted by WhatsApp wrote an open letter to the Central government saying, “It is a matter of public concern whether Indian tax payer money has been spent on this kind of Cyber surveillance… We seek an answer from the Government of India about whether it was aware of any contract between any of its various ministries, departments, agencies, or any State government and the NSO Group or any of its contractors to deploy Pegasus or related malware for any operations within India?” The government, back then, had neither confirmed nor denied the usage of the spyware.

However, by invoking section 69 of the IT Act when asked if the government was tapping Whatsapp conversations, the government has silenced all speculations and we have a clear admission from the horses mouth!


WhatsApp confirms: Israeli spyware was used to snoop on Indian journalists, activists

Besides May alert, WhatsApp sent another in September on 121 Indians breached

Phone tapping and now face scan, Govt. creeping into our privacy

What is Ravishankar Prasad Hiding on WhatsApp Hack?



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