The reported use of spyware Pegasus on Indian citizens and other people across the globe presents a disturbing, unprecedented and dystopian vision of an overarching surveillance society. The sheer brazenness with which individuals were targeted and their devices hacked raises alarm bells about the magnitude of the surveillance network. This development marks a new low in the way human dignity, liberty, fundamental rights and safety and security of citizens are being compromised in this country.

This is a clear violation of the right to privacy that is guaranteed to us all under the constitution. Apart from being an infringement of rights, this also raises apprehensions that the software may be used not only for surveillance but also to fabricate evidence against opposition voices. We have already seen how similar surveillance and hacking software was used in the Bhima Koregaon case to frame activists and human rights defenders on completely fictitious and trumped-up charges by planting fabricated evidence on their devices.

With the global authoritarian tendencies on the overdrive and freedom of expression and dissent being crushed, this new marriage of tyranny and technology raises unprecedented questions. Technological surveillance was predicted to control the population and its perception and enhance scrutiny. Those prophecies of the future are being fulfilled in a frightening manner.

As it is, the new IT intermediary rules have raised concerns about privacy and surveillance. In this regard, we call for broad-based deliberations on the basic questions of human dignity, privacy and freedom of expression. If citizens are treated like lab rats or tied down in brick walls, we cease to exist as a humane society.

Kidiyoor Nihal Saheb
National Secretary, Students Islamic Organisation of India (SIO)