The Monsoon Session of Parliament was ransacked by the Opposition, calling use of Pegasus spyware an attack on their freedom and privacy. Wish, they could also spare a thought for the country’s security and geographical integrity. Britishers partitioned India seven times and after Independence, we parcelled large tracts of land to China and Pakistan. That’s because we were either slaves or militarily weak and oblivious of invidious activities of our internal enemies. While it is easy to beef up defence forces and neutralise overground enemies like terrorists, insurgents and Naxalites, preventing saboteurs such as religious extremists, enemy collaborators, ideologues and social activists from working for external foes, spreading disaffection and mobilising people to defy the state, is arduous. Hence the need to secretly monitor their activities 24x7.
Pegasus is one of several surveillance toolkits that serves this need. It has been developed by the NSO Group, an Israeli surveillance firm, and is designed to infiltrate devices that run on Android, Blackberry, iOS systems, using WhatsApp, iMessages, SMS and missed calls. However, to assume that everyone critical of the government’s policies is a victim of Pegasus is preposterous. Out of 135 crore Indians, if 300-odd individuals are being targeted by this spyware, there has to be some compelling reasons for this action. Usually, the need for surveillance arises when interrogation and source reports throw up names of suspects whose movements, writings, speeches and communications pose a threat to the country’s security and law and order. Subsequently, surveillance techniques are employed to verify the suspicion and prosecute delinquents, if evidence so demands. This helps to ensure that the nation remains secure and millions of Indians feel safe to pursue their aspirations, undisturbed.
The demand for a probe in the usage of Pegasus is a non-starter. No government can afford to reveal names of suspects under surveillance, for it will alert targets to hide their network and footprints, and deny investigators the opportunity to nip their sinister plans in the bud. It is a cat and mouse game that agencies and saboteurs continuously play to cause maximum damage to the other. Besides, in a chaotic country like ours where everyone has a diametrically opposite view on every subject, obtaining approval for surveilling a suspect is impossible.
Critics have to be in the government to appreciate merit in spying over individuals unless they suffer from amnesia about their oath to the Constitution to protect national security. One also heard politicians complaining about using Pegasus for tapping their phones. It’s laughable. Pegasus is not needed to bug phones of Opposition leaders and dissidents in the ruling party. All political parties in power have been using the police to do this for ages with basic devices.
Amar Bhushan ,Former special secretary, Research and Analysis Wing