The department-related standing committee for information and technology chaired by Congress MP Shashi Tharoor is likely to discuss another issue that may actually create a storm between parties in the Opposition and parties from the ruling dispensation. The issue of the alleged phone tapping has already taken Parliament by storm and no business has happened in the last two days.
A week later the IT committee, as per the official notification, will focus on “Evidence of the representatives of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Communications (Department of Telecommunications) on the subject ‘Citizens data security and privacy’.”
Former union minister and Congress MP Shashi Tharoor said on Twitter on Wednesday, “Three hearings were held on #pegasus in 2019. The Committee heard representatives of hacking victims, & Secretaries of IT, Telecoms & MHA. This was part of two broader subjects, “Citizens’ Data Privacy & Security” & “Cyber Security”, on which discussions are continuing.’
It is learned that the Congress party and the TMC, among others, in the Opposition have been up in arms against the government on the alleged phone tapping leak and the Pegasus software.
Names of politicians, media personnel, and prominent citizens — who were allegedly potential targets of phone tappings between 2017-2018 — have come out through a series of leaks. Several questions according to the Opposition remain unanswered including if the Indian government authorised the Israeli software to hack the phones of the above individuals, and who was paying for this hacking.
Tharoor wrote in an online portal that the NSO only sells Pegasus to vetted governments and if the Government of India says they haven’t done it, some other government did it, then it’s a serious national security concern. It’s been proved that phones examined in India had an invasion of Pegasus.
Home Minister Amit Shah said on Tuesday that the report was by disruptors to malign India. He said, “People have often associated this phrase with me in lighter vein but today I want to seriously say – the timing of the selective leaks, the disruptions… Aap Chronology Samajhiye! This is a report by the disrupters for the obstructers. Disrupters are global organisations that do not like India to progress. “Obstructers are political players in India who do not want India to progress. People of India are very good at understanding this chronology and connection.”
On Monday, in the midst chaos IT minister Ashwini Vaishnaw made a statement on the floor of the Lok Sabha rejecting the snooping charge. He was also to make a suo motu statement in the Rajya Sabha but was unable to do so because of the constant disruption.
An official statement of the Union government reads:
India is a robust democracy that is committed to ensuring the right to privacy to all its citizens as a fundamental right. In furtherance of this commitment, it has also introduced the Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019 and the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, to protect the personal data of individuals and to empower users of social media platforms.
The commitment to free speech as a fundamental right is the cornerstone of India’s democratic system. We have always strived to attain an informed citizenry with an emphasis on a culture of open dialogue. However, the questionnaire sent to the Government of India indicates that the story being crafted is one that is not only bereft of facts but also founded in pre-conceived conclusions. It seems you are trying to play the role of an investigator, prosecutor as well as jury.
Considering the fact that answers to the queries posed have already been in public domain for a long time, it also indicates poorly conducted research and lack of due diligence by the esteemed media organizations involved.
Government of India’s response to a Right to Information application about the use of Pegasus has been prominently reported by media and is in itself sufficient to counter any malicious claims about the alleged association between the Government of India and Pegasus.
India’s Minister of Electronics & IT has also spoken in detail, including in the Parliament, that there has been no unauthorised interception by Government agencies. It is important to note that Government agencies have a well established protocol for interception, which includes sanction and supervision from highly ranked officials in central & state governments, for clear stated reasons only in national interest.
The allegations regarding government surveillance on specific people has no concrete basis or truth associated with it whatsoever.
In the past, similar claims were made regarding the use of Pegasus on WhatsApp by Indian State. Those reports also had no factual basis and were categorically denied by all parties, including WhatsApp in the Indian Supreme Court.
This news report, thus, also appears to be a similar fishing expedition, based on conjectures and exaggerations to malign the Indian democracy and its institutions.
In India there is a well established procedure through which lawful interception of electronic communication is carried out in order for the purpose of national security, particularly on the occurrence of any public emergency or in the interest of public safety, by agencies at the Centre and States. The requests for these lawful interception of electronic communication are made as per relevant rules under the provisions of section 5(2) of Indian Telegraph Act ,1885 and section 69 of the Information Technology (Amendment) Act, 2000.
Each case of interception, monitoring, and decryption is approved by the competent authority i.e. the Union Home Secretary. These powers are also available to the competent authority in the state governments as per IT (Procedure and Safeguards for Interception, Monitoring and Decryption of Information) Rules, 2009.
There is an established oversight mechanism in the form of a review committee headed by the Union Cabinet Secretary. In case of state governments, such cases are reviewed by a committee headed by the Chief Secretary concerned.
The procedure therefore ensures that any interception, monitoring or decryption of any information through any computer resource is done as per due process of law.