Today’s world is in a digital ecosystem which provides various opportunities for surveillance for both state and non-state actors.
The massive advancement of over-the-top applications and the increased dependence on them by users have provided further fertile opportunities to various interested stakeholders to be surveilled on the data subjects.
The recent WhatsApp snooping matter has demonstrated how innocent trusted users can be made the target of surveillance without their knowledge.
However, in this data-driven economy and society where data is the prime mover of all transactions, it is easy to see the significance of why interception of electronic data is becoming so problematic.
However, such illegal interception and monitoring runs contra to the provisions of the existing legal frameworks in any country.
The existing legal frameworks tend to provide adequate checks and balances to prevent illegal interception and monitoring.
If these trends are not allowed to be changed, these could lead to the evolution of surveillance of state on the horizon. The object of such a state will have immense dangers not just for all data subjects but also for the enjoyment of liberties and civil rights.
Such efforts should be adopted by all stakeholders to protect and preserve whatever privacy remains to make sure that they do not become victims of unauthorised interception and monitoring.
India as a country has a vibrant living Constitution which guides its jurisprudence. As powers of sovereign state, the power of interception of electronic information has been given under Section 69 of the Information Technology Act, 2000.
The said power stipulates interception of electronic information on the stipulated grounds, including sovereignty and security of India, friendly relations with other nations, decency or morality and to prevent the commission of any cognizable offence. Various detailed parameters of electronic interception have been given under the IT Act, 2000. These have to be strictly complied with in a manner so stipulated by law.
The recent WhatsApp snooping matter is a wake-up call for the government to come out of its complacence. It will ensure that appropriate parameters of cybersecurity have also appropriate precautions for them in the event the interceptions are duly complied with and implemented by various intermediaries and data repositories on their networks.
The absence of dedicated cybersecurity law in India has further complicated the entire scenario. The said WhatsApp snooping matter should be treated as a wake-up call so that India can start having in place mechanisms to prevent such illegal interception and monitoring.
Further, such an episode should also be a caution for the stakeholders to the dangers of illegal surveillance and all stakeholders have to work together to prevent illegal surveillance and monitoring of any kind whatsoever.
Such efforts will help enable enjoyment of civil liberties and rights of all citizens, apart from help in creating secure and orderly cyberspace ecosystem.
The author is a Supreme Court advocate and chairman, International Commission on Cyber Security Law