Govt Concerned About Privacy: Only Law Enforcement Agencies Can Monitor Your Whatsapp, Phone Calls, Social Media
The government has said that only authorized law enforcement agencies can tap telephones or intercept and monitor any electronically transmitted information.
Union Minister of State for Home Ajay Kumar Mishra was answering a question on whether national or international agencies are authorized to monitor and decrypt digital information such as WhatsApp texts.
He replied that as per legal provisions of section 69 of the Information Technology Act, 2000, only authorized law enforcement agencies in the country are empowered to intercept, monitor or decrypt any information generated, transmitted, received or stored in any computer resource.
The IT rules (Procedure and Safeguards for Interception, Monitoring and Decryption of Information) also outline the safeguards and review mechanism for telephone tapping along with Standard Operating Procedure for the purpose.
The government had stated in 2019 that the following are among the 10 agencies authorized to tap citizens’ phones:
- Intelligence Bureau
- Central Bureau of Investigation
- Enforcement Directorate
- Narcotics Control Bureau
- National Investigation Agency
No Comment On Government Snooping
However, Mishra didn’t give any further clarification on phone tapping or privacy breaches where the government’s role was questioned.
The comments come at a sensitive time with respect to citizens’ privacy which is being threatened with government-mandated data such as Aadhaar which leaves citizen’s mobile numbers and other such data out in the open.
The Pegasus-WhatsApp spying controversy added fuel to this fire.
Pegasus Spying Controversy
Pegasus is a malware/spyware developed by Israel’s NSO Group which can access any smartphone through zero-click vulnerabilities remotely.
Once a phone is hacked, the spyware can access the entirety of data on the device.
The controversy blew up in 2019 since it was being alleged that the government was involved in the data breach of hundreds of Indians through the messaging app.
Phones of the Indian social activists, lawyers and journalists were also broken into.
Since then, the Indian government repeatedly faced questions on the extent of its involvement in snooping on its own citizens, which it has denied.
However, WhatsApp had a different tale to tell.
It said that in 2019 the Indian government had previously used Pegasus to spy on a dozen users, including academics, lawyers, activists and journalists.
All Is Not As It Seems
When the government started banning Chinese apps and investors in 2020, apparently for protecting the data sovereignty of the country, it turned out that it’s the same data that the Indian government wanted to monitor.
Cybersecurity expert Anand Venkatanarayanan said a few months back before the Supreme Court-appointed Technical Committee that there are enough clues that the government had in fact bought Pegasus.