A Colonial Law Even Allows Centre To Monitor Messaging
‘The Telegraph Act’ passed by the British in 1885 still allows current lawmakers in Delhi with broad powers to monitor, intercept and decrypt digital communications. (The Indian Telegraph Act, 1885 is the enabling legislation in India that governs the use of wired and wireless telegraphy, telephones, teletype, radio communications, and digital data communications. It gives the Government of India exclusive jurisdiction and privileges for establishing, maintaining, operating, licensing and oversight of all forms of wired and wireless communications within Indian territory) “The [Acts] empower the Central Government or a State Government to intercept, monitor or decrypt or cause to be intercepted or monitored or decrypted, any information generated, transmitted, received or stored in any computer resource in the interest of the sovereignty or integrity of India, security of the State, friendly relations with foreign states or public order or for preventing incitement to the commission of any cognizable offence relating to above or for investigation of any offence,” Reddy said in a written response to the question. The question was raised by Maran after 19 activists, journalists, politicians and privacy advocates in India revealed earlier this month that their communications over WhatsApp may have been compromised.
On November 20, Asaduddin Owaisi, the MP from the All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), asked in the Lok Sabha, among other things, "whether the Government has taken cognizance of the reports of alleged use and purchase of the Pegasus spyware by Government agencies"
Raised questions about the recent #Pegasus @WhatsApp snooping controversy and whether the govt surveils encrypted data on social media platforms @facebook, @Viber, @Google.@internetfreedom #Privacy pic.twitter.com/xdTCAkAQiY— தயாநிதி மாறன் Dayanidhi Maran (@Dayanidhi_Maran) November 19, 2019
On November 21, Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad responded with "Some statements have appeared, based on reports in media, regarding this. These attempts to malign the Government of India for the reported breach are completely misleading. The Government is committed to protect the fundamental rights of citizens, including the right to privacy." Last month, WhatsApp filed a lawsuit against Israel’s NSO Group accusing the spying firm of targeting roughly 1,400 account holders by infecting devices with spyware. The NSO Group in its defence said that Pegasus has been sold only to government agencies. Earlier this year in May, the government announced setting up of a Centralised Monitoring System (CMS) to automate the process of lawful interception and monitoring of phones and internet. India ranks behind only Russia and China when it comes to surveilling citizens, said a report published last month by UK-based research firm Comparitech.
THREAD: In response to my question in Parliament on government role in #Whatsapp spying, @rsprasad says these reports are “attempts to malign” & “completely misleading”. No express denial of whether a govt agency actually used #pegasus software— Asaduddin Owaisi (@asadowaisi) November 20, 2019
I’d have also followed up with: pic.twitter.com/HDOcm1h6le