Pegasus scandal points to the making of a surveillance state in India

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Source: Indian Express

Relevance: Understanding increasing state surveillance in India, measures to safeguard privacy.

Synopsis: There seems to be a concerted effort to create a surveillance state, monitor free flow of information and use technology to control instead of empowering citizens. Increasing rate of surveillance in India and measures that must be taken to counter it.

Surveillance projects by Indian govt 
  • Facial recognition: On March 11, the Indian government announced the adoption of facial recognition technology enabled surveillance. Using photographic and other information from government “databases”, 1,100 individual participants in the Delhi riots had been identified. When other advanced democracies, including the European Union and several states in the US, have been slowing down or stopping use of facial recognition in the public sphere altogether, here in India, we seem to be traveling at top speed in the other direction.
  • CMS, NATGRID and NETRA: There are at least three other projects that are building a 360-degree surveillance mechanism by the government. These projects, namely CMS (Central Monitoring System Project), NATGRID and NETRA, operate under complete secrecy without any publicly available information.
    • NATGRID was built with an intent to enable government agencies to get information such as bank account details and transaction details, in violation of the principles which were laid down in the Supreme Court’s Puttaswamy judgment.
  1. Pressure must be kept on the government to take suitable action.
  2. An independent inquiry commission must be set up. This commission should not be headed by one or two Supreme Court judges, but by a panel consisting of members of judiciary, civil society and technical experts. Matter should not go to CBI.
  3. In the absence of an independent judicial inquiry ordered by the Supreme Court, states should order the kind of investigations the state of West Bengal has ordered.
  4. All the victims should approach courts, police and ask for their rights to be enforced. Courts should stop buying the argument of national security every time, and should not allow governments to use the market to create an infrastructure of surveillance.
  5. Government’s right to have continuous access to our data, without adequate safeguards, should also be held a violation of constitutional human rights.
  6. Information about the three surveillance projects, namely CMS, NATGRID and NETRA, should be publicly available and they must be subject to the principles laid down in the Puttaswamy case.
  7. Parliament should be persuaded to frame a law containing a strong personal privacy charter protecting the right to be free from collection and mass data analysis that are demonstrably harmful. Such an Act should not have any exceptions. It should subject all government surveillance — and government use of private surveillance technologies — to the rule of law.
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