What­sapp? Clean Up In­dia’s Snoop­ing Act

The Economic Times - - The Edit Page -

The Jammu and Kash­mir govern­ment wants ev­ery­one who op­er­ates groups on What­sapp, a so­cial me­dia ap­pli­ca­tion on mo­bile phones, to reg­is­ter them­selves with lo­cal au­thor­i­ties. This, it be­lieves, will help curb the spread of mes­sages ex­press­ing dis­af­fec­tion to­wards the ad­min­is­tra­tion. What rub­bish. The or­der should be scrapped im­me­di­ately. First, it is im­prac­ti­cal: What­sapp is heav­ily en­crypted and it is im­pos­si­ble to hack into com­mu­ni­ca­tions flow­ing through it. Sec­ond, it is over­bear­ing: the or­der will rub salt into the wounds of peo­ple al­ready seething from real and per­ceived in­jus­tices meted out by se­cu­rity forces. Three, it is a slap on the face of free­dom of ex­pres­sion. Fi­nally, the or­der is prob­a­bly il­le­gal. It should be chal­lenged in court. If the govern­ment sus­pects some peo­ple of plot­ting se­ri­ous crime or ter­ror, it must try and pre-empt th­ese ac­tiv­i­ties. But it has to op­er­ate within the bound­aries of law. Court war­rants must be pro­cured to mon­i­tor peo­ple or groups; law­suits must be filed, cases heard and jus­tice de­liv­ered im­par­tially. Snoop­ing can­not be in­dis­crim­i­nate; In­dia is a democ­racy, where citizens have the right to pri­vacy. In the US, for ex­am­ple, fed­eral au­thor­i­ties can sanc­tion elec­tronic sur­veil­lance, but only if con­vinced by in­ves­ti­gat­ing agen­cies that this is nec­es­sary for na­tional se­cu­rity or to solve se­ri­ous crimes. Fed­eral judges have to sanc­tion snoop­ing. And a se­nate com­mit­tee holds the spooks to ac­count.

In­dia fol­lows no such niceties. Our in­tel­li­gence agen­cies have lit­tle or no ac­count­abil­ity, ex­cept no­tion­ally to the ex­ec­u­tive. Their func­tion­ing is opaque, ef­fi­ciency ques­tion­able and spend­ing of tax­payer funds, unchecked. This must change. All sur­veil­lance oper­a­tions must ob­tain le­gal sanc­tion. Spooks must re­port to se­lect Par­lia­ment com­mit­tees.

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