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Is Our Privacy At Risk?

Is Our Privacy At Risk?

The most controversial topic that we come across today is Right To Privacy Vs National Security. Pegasus Spyware which shocked the entire nation when it comes to knowledge that around 300 mobile phone numbers in India have been targeted by Pegasus which includes devices belonging to journalists, politicians, business persons, legal and other professionals and it was also alleged that Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan's device was also traced.

What is Pegasus Spyware?

Pegasus is a spyware developed by Israeli firm NSO (Niv, Shalev and Omri) group in 2010, a malicious software that can enter your device, gather the data and forward to a third party without the consent of the user. It can be operated on both android and ios. The spyware is named after Pegasus which means the winged horse in Greek Mythology. The Pegasus Spyware is capable of reading text, messages, can access the device microphone and camera without the knowledge of the targeted user.

History of Pegasus Spyware

In 2016 it was first discovered by researchers at Canadian based cyber security organization THE CITIZEN LAB when the Pegasus was trying to enter Jamal Khashoggi's (Saudi Arabian Journalist) iPhone. Apple came to know about the spyware and hence Pegasus was first discovered.

In 2016, the spyware used the technology called Spear Phishing, the hackers send email to infect the smartphone.

In September 2018, The Citizen Lab published a data that identified 60 customers from 40 countries.

In 2019, the spyware call on WhatsApp and if the user answered the call, the virus entered the device.

In 2021, a new technology was developed called ZERO CLICK ATTACK, the code enters the phone even if the call is not answered which made it difficult to trace the hacker.
NSO group claimed that they maintained the software only for government officials to use against money laundering, terrorists and criminal activity. Pegasus is also very costly; it costs around $7-8 million for 50 smartphone which becomes difficult for a private player to use.

Why in News?

In July 2021, Forbidden Stories, a Paris based non profit journalism organization and Amnesty International shared information with 16 media organization including The Guardian. Since 2016 around 50,000 phone numbers have been leaked according to data published. Sample of 37 mobiles were conducted and around 10 Indian phones were found to be subjected which show signs of Pegasus Spyware.

Legal Positions in India

Justice K.S. Puttaswamy (Retd.) and Anr. vs Union of India And Ors, 2017 landmark judgement in which Supreme Court holds the right to privacy and is protected under Article 14, 19 and 21. Right to Privacy is enshrined under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. Supreme Court ordered the government to pass a law on data protection. 9 Judge bench held that:
The right to privacy is protected as an intrinsic part of the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21 and as a part of the freedoms guaranteed by Part III of the Constitution
Section 69 of the Information Technology Act 2000 authorizes the government to conduct surveillance, permits the government to monitor information without any judicial inspection. But the provision does not allow the government to install spyware. Section 66 reads with Section 43 of IT Act 2000, criminalizes the hacking of devices.

Indian Telegraph Act 1885 allows for tracking of phones in matters of state security and part 4 deals with penalties and offence under the Telegraph.

Section 72 of IT Act 2000, penalizes for breach of confidentiality and privacy. Any person who without the consent discloses electronic record, correspondence information or document will be imprisoned for 2 years or fine of maximum 1 lakh or both.

Supreme Court Investigation on Pegasus

On 27 October Supreme Court appointed an independent committee to probe the allegations of the unauthorized surveillance. Supreme Court said:
Government can't get free pass every time when 'national security' is raised.

The ruling came after 12 petitioners filled a case. The plea said that spyware is violation of the right to privacy which is a fundamental right under article 21.

3 Member Technical Committee has been appointed by Supreme Court. The members include Dr Naveen Kumar Chaudhary, Dr Prabaharan P and Dr Ashwin Anil Gumaste. The committee will be supervised by Justice RV Raveendran and he will be assisted by Dr Sundeep Oberoi and Alok Joshi.

India needs an appropriate law to regulate personal data so that the privacy of individuals do not get hamper keeping in mind national security. The government has proposed the Personal Data Protection Bill 2019 on 11 December 2019. Currently the bill is being scrutinized by the Joint Parliamentary Committee. The bill regulates personal data and provides protection of personal data of individual and it can only be processed for specific and ethical purpose.

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