Data Experts on WhatsApp Snooping: Present Laws are Weak and Interception Violates Privacy

Data Experts on WhatsApp Snooping: Present Laws are Weak and Interception Violates Privacy

Data experts believe whether the government gives a straight answer to the question or not of WhatsApp snooping controversy, the present laws are weak...

On Thursday there was a disorder in the Rajya Sabha as Law and IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad neither acknowledged nor denied if the government was truly the one to approve the alleged WhatsApp snoopgate that happened with 1400 individuals globally using Pegasus software.

Ravi Shankar Prasad said that no unauthorised interception was done. "It is already stated that any violation of SOP is actionable by law. To my knowledge, no unauthorised use has been done. Any violation of the established procedure is actionable in law. If anyone has a problem, let them file FIR or complaint. Till date, no FIR or complaint has been filed alleging breach of privacy."

Experts believe whether the government gives a straight answer or not to the WhatsApp snoopgate controversy, the present laws are weak and the interception violates the right to privacy.

Kazim Rizvi, data policy expert and founder of The Dialogue, a think tank working in the intersection of technology, society and public policy, said: "Our intelligence agencies, although accountable to a different set of laws through regulatory mechanisms, do not come under the purview of an 'oversight mechanism', including Parliament or the General Comptroller of India."

National security being the primary argument for the government's data interceptions, experts say there is an immediate need to have a surveillance law that will give greater legitimacy to law enforcement agencies to perform their duties.

Rizvi further added, "A more accountable surveillance ecosystem, based on an act of Parliament and judicial safeguards, should be developed with the right policy framework. There is evidence to suggest that a heavily bureaucratised and minimally accountable regime does not contribute significantly to enhancing security while having huge costs to people's privacy."

Advocate Apar Gupta, Internet freedom activist and founder Internet Freedom Foundation said: "The proceedings today show that the government is still to give a direct and clear answer on the use of Pegasus and what steps it is taking to safeguard the privacy."

The data privacy bill yet to be presented in the Parliament, the government has to face more tough questions on data privacy and the need for a strict set of laws in India.

The minister while speaking in the Rajya Sabha said that the Supreme Court has upheld privacy as a fundamental right. The court has also specified that a terrorist and corrupt people don't have any right to privacy and he stressed on the need to balance "competing interest of privacy and security" of the country.

"In the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India, intercepts can be made of the people including their computer resource but this has to be authorised by the home secretary of the government of India," Ravi Shankar Prasad had said.

Ravi Shankar Prasad also informed that work on Data Protection law is under progress and would be introduced in Parliament very soon.

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