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A Political Policy!

History suggests that a natural tendency to deprive individuals of their Right to Privacy has been observed in various forms across the globe. The surveillance of the Civil Society by the State is an ancient practice. In his Panopticon Theory, French Philosopher Paul-Michel Foucault (October 15, 1926 – June 25, 1984) explained how the issue of State Security got involved with the concept of Individual Privacy long ago. According to Foucault, the State considers a person as a traitor if s/he criticises the Ruling Class. (Discipline and Punish, 1975)

The issue of State Surveillance has stolen the limelight in recent times, due to the Pegasus spyware episode. The episode has triggered a storm worldwide, which is going to stay for quite some time. Amidst such a situation, a book (written in Bengali) has been published by the Association for Protection of Democratic Rights (APDR), a non-profit organisation based in the eastern Indian city of Kolkata that has been a part of the nationwide Civil and Human Rights Movement since 1972. In the publication titled Dijital Yuge Gaṇanajaradari: Rashtra o Manabadhikara (Mass Surveillance in Digital Age: The State & Human Rights) the author, Dr Sujato Bhadra, has shed light on the deprivation of Individual Liberty and Privacy in the Contemporary World.

Dr Bhadra, a Professor of Sociology at the University of Calcutta and a Human Rights Activist, has started the discussions from the perspective of 18th Century. According to the author, the ruling class, both in Monarchy and Democracy, has indulged in monitoring the activities of various people, in the pretext of National Security, for ages. In course of Time, the advancement of technology helps the rulers expand the field of surveillance. With the help of data-based analysis, Dr Bhadra has shown how this surveillance violates the basic Civil Rights, thus, destroying the concept of Personal Privacy. Different digital marketing platforms have seemingly become essential apps in the 21st Century. As people use these apps for various financial transactions, different business houses get access to personal information of their existing clients, as well as future clientelle. In fact, people have no idea who are using those information, and for what purpose.

Pegasus is a spyware developed by the Israeli cyberarms firm NSO Group that can be covertly installed on mobile phones (and other devices) running most versions of iOS and Android. The 2021 Project Pegasus revelations suggest that the current Pegasus software can exploit all recent iOS versions. Various governments have hacked iPhones and Android smartphones through this spyware. Governments are the main culprit here, because the Israeli firm has sold the spyware technology only to the Governments for a huge amount of money. The question arises here is: Why does the State need a spyware, like Pegasus, for the sake of National Security, in spite of having so many laws? The Indian State has intercepted the phone calls of Opposition leaders, judges, detectives, industrialists, Human Rights activists, journalists, bureaucrats, and even ministers! Such an act proves that the State has lost its credibility.

Dr Sujato Bhadra

In this publication, Dr Bhadra has mentioned that States, which strengthen cyber security in order to catch cybercriminals and seek social sanction to protect the Rights of citizens, also wage cyber warfare! Nicole Perlroth, an award-winning cybersecurity journalist for the New York Times, claimed in 2013 that around 25 countries around the world were using a software, called FinSpy, to monitor their own citizens. Gamma International, a subsidiary of the Gamma Group that specialises in surveillance and monitoring, including equipment, software and training services, is the Sole Distributor of this software.

Nicole Perlroth

Reports suggest that the Narendra Modi Government in India intercepted phone calls of about 300 people, including 40 journalists, between 2016 and 2019. A question naturally arises: Does India believe in Individual Liberty, at all? Dealing with the Justice (Retired) K S Puttaswamy versus Union Of India case in 2015, the Supreme Court of India delivered a landmark judgment, saying that the “Right to Privacy is protected as a Fundamental Right under Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution of India”. Article 21 of the Constitution of India clearly states: “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty, except according to procedure established by law.” At the same time, the Apex Court admitted that India had never recognised the Right to Privacy!

Paul Bernal, the Associate Professor of Information Technology, Intellectual Property and Media Law in the UEA (University of East Anglia) School of Law, is of the opinion that although the State installs surveillance systems in the pretext of safeguarding National Security, the system itself threatens Security. In an article published in the Harvard Law Journal in 2013, Neil M Richards stated: “Information is Power or Strength.” According to Richards, Information about individuals create a different kind of Power that helps a State suppress its citizens. On the other hand, the Right to Information recognises people as citizens of a country. Hence, information is often seen to play two completely different roles in a society. The main feature of covert surveillance is to increase the influence and control of the State over people. This is why the Authoritarian Rulers prefer Digital Surveillance.

Neil M Richards

Dr Bhadra is a skilled researcher. He uses a lot of researched information while writing any book. The newly published book is not an exception to this. He searched a lot of books, research papers, news articles and periodicals to collect various information about State Surveillance. However, two publications might have enriched the contents of his book. The first one is Spying for the People: Mao’s Secret Agents, 1949-1967 by Michael Schoenhals. In this book, the author discussed the activities of Mao Zedong’s Chinese spy agency in the context of World Politics. Schoenhals penned the book after studying Chinese Politics and History for more than 25 years. The second one is Brittany Kaiser’s Targeted: The Cambridge Analytica Whistleblower’s Inside Story of How Big Data, Trump, and Facebook Broke Democracy and How It Can Happen Again. However, Dr Bhadra’s publication is a remarkable one on mass surveillance in the digital age, given the current situation in India.

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