Minister Says The Government Has The Right To Spy On Citizens, What Does That Leave Us?

Dhir Acharya - Nov 22, 2019


Minister Says The Government Has The Right To Spy On Citizens, What Does That Leave Us?

A parliament minister said that the government has the power and authority to intercept anyone’s communications. And here's why that's bad.

Right now, the Parliament of India is in its winter session, which means we can hope to have more news about a Personal Data Protection Bill. However, the situation doesn’t look really bright with recent comments, which include one that encourages the police to spy on people.

On Tuesday, a parliament minister said that the government has the power and authority to intercept anyone’s communications. It can even decrypt and monitor digital communications that are created, transmitted, stored, or received on a device within India. He said that all of these are for the best interest of national security relations.

The-Parliament-of-India-1
The Parliament of India

G Kishan Reddy, Minister of State for Home Affairs, was the one to make that comment as he was responding to questions if the government spied on citizen’s Messenger and WhatsApp messages, calls, and communications via other VoIP platforms.

Let us remind you of an incident coming to light just last week, in which the government might have been snooping on all citizens using spyware developed by Israel.

The minister cited Section 69 from the Information Technology Act, 2000, along with Section 5 from the Telegraph Act, 1885, to support his comment. He said that state and national governments are empowered by the law to:

minister-says-the-government-has-the-right-to-spy-on-citizens-2

If you haven’t processed it yet, that means our government is saying that we don’t have any rights to our own privacy, that they can look into our personal conversations whenever they want to, and that they have the law support them.

Now, the question is what the Indian government was doing with the spyware. The answer is here, among affected users, 20 were privacy advocates, politicians, journalists, and activists. A similar incident takes place in China, Saudi Arabia, as well as other places, also using the Pegasus malware.

While Reddy said that all cases in such investigation have got approval from the Home Secretary or the Union Home Secretary, this reveals scary things about the imminent privacy bill.

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The law allows the government to interfere in our digital communications

First, why didn’t the government talk about a provision protecting citizens’ privacy from being abused by the government and law enforcement? Then there’s another question that the Indian government demands that user data from internationally-headed and local apps be stored in India. You may think that would secure your data better as it’s not transferred out of India.

However, making a company store all user data in the country is one thing, mandating how and where it’s stored is another. And our data may end up flowing through the nodes that the government controls. This kind of thing is happening in Russia right now after all Internet traffic was routed through the Kremlin.

But for now, the fact is that the government has only made the decision to take up a privacy bill in this session, with the comments Reddy made. Everything happening after this is just speculation. We don’t have evidence to support our thoughts, but at the same time, there are too many possibilities.

Minister-of-State-for-Home-Affairs-G-Kishan-Reddy-4
Minister of State for Home Affairs G Kishan Reddy

And as much as it may seem like personal thoughts, experts from SFLC in New Delhi can help you further understand this too. They can show you all the legal backing the government may rely on to spy on citizens. The law has already had it. So we have all the reasons to imagine lawmakers do such things.

Moreover, the constitution already has a provision for guaranteeing citizens a basic right to privacy. And the Supreme Court stated that in August 2017 as it delivered a verdict to the Aadhaar card issue. But last year, the Home Ministry allowed 10 central agencies to intercept, monitor, and track data on computers across India. And if you try to stop these authorities from collecting data on your device, you may be put to prison for seven years.

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