Former Union Minister Subramaniam Swamy’s tweet on Sunday has pulled the debate on the right to privacy back on the table from 2019. Swamy’s tweet claims that IST, Washington Post, and the London Guardian might publish a report that exposes the hiring of an Israeli firm Pegasus, to tap the phones of Narendra Modi’s Cabinet Ministers, RSS leaders, Supreme Court judges, and journalists on Sunday.
Strong rumour that this evening IST, Washington Post & London Guardian are publishing a report exposing the hiring of an Israeli firm Pegasus, for tapping phones of Modi’s Cabinet Ministers, RSS leaders, SC judges, & journalists. If I get this confirmed I will publish the list.
— Subramanian Swamy (@Swamy39) July 18, 2021
Pegasus spyware by the Israel-based surveillance firm NSO Group is believed to allow anyone access to, basically, every information in a phone. When last in the news in 2019, the Pegasus was feared to be a danger to the privacy of journalists, lawyers, Dalit activists, and at least two dozen academics. WhatsApp in 2019 accused the spyware of the same breach of privacy. In the same vein, seventeen Indian citizens who were targeted in the WhatsApp hack using Pegasus spyware had written to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology asking for a detailed probe.
In 2019, when Minister of State for Home Affairs, G Kishan Reddy was questioned about the same, the minister failed to confirm anything. Reddy did not confirm the government’s purchase of Pegasus, its potential use on Indian citizens, or of a specific protocol in place for getting permission to tap WhatsApp messages and calls.
On July 3, Amnesty International informed of a new investivation that showed the global human rights harm of the NSO Group’s spyware. “The investigation reveals the extent to which the digital domain we inhabit has become the new frontier of human rights violations, a site of state surveillance and intimidation that enables physical violations in real space,” said Shourideh C. Molavi, Forensic Architecture’s Researcher-in-Charge in this regard.
If Subramanian Swamy’s “rumour” turns out to be true, and a report does come out, it might change the way India sees the relationship between authorities and the citizens’ privacy.