The Modi government is facing the heat for WhatsApp breaching the privacy of Indian citizens. But the government has maintained that it was not informed about snooping into the lives of its citizens and mulling punitive action against WhatsApp
Bengaluru: In the last few days, the issue of breaching the privacy of Indian citizens (journalists, human rights activists and government officials) using Pegasus, an Israeli spyware, by hacking android and iOS systems has created a lot of controversy.
Shocked at the news reports of hacking, the Indian government even sought an explanation from WhatsApp for hiding details about Indian citizens being snooped.
With this move of the government, it was amply clear that the Modi government would not compromise on the privacy aspect of its citizens and would deal with such snooping in a no-nonsense manner.
In the meantime, WhatsApp did reply to the government, saying it “quickly resolved a security issue and notified Indian and international government authorities.”
But here is the catch. Indian officials say that though the company did inform them about a breach, it did not inform them that Indian citizens were being snooped into.
As the issue has snowballed into a huge controversy, the government is going the extra mile to ensure the interests of its citizens are not compromised with.
As a punitive measure, the government is mulling action like penalties.
An official from the concerned department said, “They are legally bound under Section 70(B) of the IT Act, 2000 to inform us about the details of such attacks (on Indian citizens), which they failed to.”
Privacy of an individual is sacrosanct. At no cost can it be compromised with. What an individual does, his likes and preferences are his rights and none can question it. It is this aspect that gives the individual the courage and the freedom to live a life of his choice.
With an endeavour to help keep the privacy of an individual ultra vires for any snoopers, there are several champions and advocates who stress the fact that privacy-related laws must be fool-proof and robust.
Rajeev Chandrasekhar, a BJP Rajya Member has been in the vanguard in this fight. In 2016, he spoke at length about the Aadhaar Bill on the floor of the Parliament, urging the government to also look into the aspect of safeguarding privacy of the citizens.
Here is a gist of what he said:
“This Government has substantively expanded the privacy and protection of information section. I congratulate the Government for recognizing the importance of this. The issue of consumer and citizen rights was something that was missing from all UPA legislations, including their National ID bill and also examples of Section 66A. This is a good, well-constructed section and puts paid to the defence put out there by the UPA’s architects of Aadhaar that there was no need for privacy rights for enrollees. There is protection under Section 43 A of the IT Act, and that is good. The FM himself remembers how easy it is for people to get personal data out from entities that have no liabilities arising out of such an Act. Eg: Call records from Telcos.
But Sir, is that adequate given the dangers of a centralized repository? The cyber tribunals under the IT Act are hardly active, and capacity doesn’t exist for these kind of disputes. I believe amending this section to create express obligations that can be agitated under the provisions of this Act may be considered to strengthen the privacy rights of the enrolees. Sir, I leave another thought with you – since Aadhaar in itself is useless for any subsidy delivery and has to work with other databases – is there any way that the Government can use this legislation to also bring those databases like JDY in the ambit of privacy clause of this law, and also possibly to bring to Parliament an overarching privacy legislation?”
The Modi led Centre has always laid a great emphasis on the private lives of its citizens.
Ravi Shankar Prasad, a Union minister said in the backdrop of allegations that, "The government is committed to protecting the privacy of all Indian citizens. The government agencies have a well-established protocol for the interception, which includes sanction and supervision from highly ranked officials in central and state governments, for clearly stated reasons in the national interest."
But what is laughable is how the opposition, chiefly the Congress is pointing fingers at the Modi government for the alleged snooping act.
It might be recalled that the UPA was in the dock for bugging former President Pranab Mukherjee's office when he was the finance minister in the UPA regime in 2011.
That being the case, the Congress must work in unison with the government to arrest such snooping incidents, rather than trying to put Modi and his government in a bad light.
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Last Updated 3, Nov 2019, 1:58 PM