Indian Official Says Law Allows Government To Pry

india, Minister of State for Home Affairs (MHA), G. Kishan Reddy, whatsapp, spying, pegasus, nso, Information Technology Act, news

The government of India has the legal right to monitor and decrypt digital information on citizens’ devices, TechCrunch reported Tuesday (Nov. 19).

In a written statement to the parliament, Minister of State for Home Affairs (MHA) G. Kishan Reddy cited section 69 of the Information Technology Act, 2000, and section 5 of the Telegraph Act, 1885, explaining the government can monitor digital information “in the interest of the sovereignty or integrity of India, the security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states or public order or for preventing incitement to the commission of any cognizable offence relating to above or for investigation of any offence.”

“There is no blanket permission to any agency for interception or monitoring or decryption and permission of competent authority is required, as per due process of laws and rules, in each case,” he further stated on Twitter.

Reddy’s remarks were prompted after a lawmaker asked if the government had pried into people’s conversations on WhatsApp and other digital messaging apps. Last month, WhatsApp confirmed that the Israeli company NSO Group’s spyware Pegasus was used to spy on at least 19 journalists and human rights activists in India. In all, the Facebook-owned messaging platform had said 121 Indians were targeted by the spyware.

After NSO said it only sells its tools to government and intelligence agencies, fear was ignited that India did the prying.

The Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC) based in New Delhi said in a report published Tuesday that more than 100,000 telephone interceptions are issued by the federal government alone every year.

“On adding the surveillance orders issued by the state governments to this, it becomes clear that India routinely surveils her citizens’ communications on a truly staggering scale,” the report said.

WhatsApp filed a lawsuit Oct. 29 in San Francisco alleging the Israeli surveillance firm NSO Group targeted some 1,400 WhatsApp users with Pegasus. In the lawsuit, WhatsApp accuses the NSO Group and Q Cyber Technologies of violating U.S. and California laws as well as WhatsApp’s terms of service.