The hacking of Indian democracy

Source: The Hindu

Relevance: Understanding various dimensions of the fall out of the Pegasus revelations.

Synopsis: International treaties, rules, and reports on the issue of right to privacy & the way forward in the Pegasus case.

Background

The Pegasus revelations reflect an attack on Indian democracy and Indian citizens. National security is important, but it can have an impact on human rights and civil liberties. The use of surveillance has serious implications for privacy. But at first look the list of people targeted shows that national security is a pretext to suppress political and societal dissent, raising doubts about the functioning of democracy in India.

Undermining the rule of law

The government has a constitutional duty to protect the fundamental and human rights of its citizens, irrespective of who they are. Even if the government is not involved in the surveillance, it has miserably failed in discharging this duty. There is clear evidence that the rule of law has been undermined.

This also reflects extremely poor governance.

Relevant international treaties & reports
  • Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR): India is a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 12 provides that “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.
  • The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, also signed by India, in Article 17 states, “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.”
  • The annual report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) in 2014 made fundamental observations and recommendations on “digital communications technologies”. It said,  these powerful technologies offer the promise of improved enjoyment of human rights, but they also have enhanced the capacity of Governments, enterprises and individuals to conduct surveillance, interception and data collection.
    • On Judicial involvement: Judicial involvement that meets the international standards can be helpful. But, at the same time, judicial involvement in oversight should not be viewed as a panacea.  It recommended an independent oversight body to keep checks.
    • On providing of user data by companies: Report stated that when a state requires that an information and communications technology company provide user data, it can only supply it in respect of legitimate reasons.
  • The General Assembly Resolution 68/167: The General Assembly adopted Resolution 68/167 affirming that rights held by people offline must also be protected online and called upon all states to respect and protect the right to privacy, including in digital communication.
Way forward

An inquiry at the highest level under the supervision of the judiciary is the optimal way forward in the Pegasus aftermath. If this does not take place, India will cease to call itself a democracy.

Terms to know:

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