Is Centre compromising privacy of citizens?

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The series of revelations against the Modi government is just unending. It seems that all was not well with the thumping victory Modi led BJP achieved in 2019. In a recent global investigation, conducted by 17 media houses including an Indian outlet, over fifty thousand phone numbers worldwide were unearthed. These numbers, according to the report, were infected by a military-grade Israeli spyware during the 2019 period. In India, nearly three hundred numbers were infected by the spyware in the run-up of the 2019 general elections. Interestingly, ‘Pegasus’ – the Israeli spyware, is only licensed to governments. The numbers in India included those of journalists, prominent Opposition leaders, union cabinet ministers, Supreme Court Justice, businessmen, scientists, activists as well as current and retired heads of the Indian government security organizations.
In 1988, a similar incident had been reported in Karnataka. The then Chief Minister Ramakrishna Hegde had to quit following charges of phone-tapping of political rivals. Hegde had a reputation of ‘snooping’ over his political rivals then. Modi-Shah may be following Hegde’s footstep, as Amit Shah has been accused of ordering phone tapping on a woman in 2013. Though nothing concrete has come out of the case, both Hedge and Shah have been termed as national embarrassments by several observers back then. Modi, on the other hand, went a step forward and probably got involved in an international digital scandal. Israel’s NSO Group is the owner of the Pegasus software, the spyware allegedly used to target the phones of heads of state, prime ministers, members of the Saudi royal family, and slain Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s fiancée. Nevertheless, NSO Group has refuted the allegations, calling them “baseless”. The Group further has, on record admitted that the software is used only for legitimate criminal and anti-terror investigations. And now after investigation reports indicating that the software may be used by governments to gain political advantage in the electoral process, it has indeed become a scary world!
The use of hacking to deliver surveillance spyware is an offense under the Indian Telegraph Act and the Information Technology Act. Though the names of the Indians whose phone numbers were spied upon have not been disclosed yet, it is being speculated that the accused in the Elgar Parishad Case were definitely spied upon. Meanwhile, the Prime Ministers’ Office and the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology have both been maintaining that India is committed to ensuring the right to privacy of all its citizens. They have also refuted the allegations and said there was no truth to the reports that say the Government spied on specific people. Having said this, the million-dollar question that remains is that did the Modi Government actually use the spyware before and during the run-up to the 2019 General Elections? Did the BJP victory stand over the usage of the spyware in question? Did the government use spyware to influence and gain an advantage during the elections? So many questions are now doing the rounds. Seems like the investigation has opened a pandora’s box for the Modi government. The government must answer and come clean over the matter.

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