From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Nothing much
Mains level : Rights in the age of technology
Will Cathcart, the global head of WhatsApp, wrote that “Governments and companies need to do more to protect vulnerable groups and individuals”.
- He was referring to spyware attacks, like the one that the messaging platform succumbed to from Pegasus.
- Pegasus is a malicious software developed by NSO.
- WhatsApp has disclosed that a “not insignificant” number of Indian journalists, rights activists and lawyers were targeted using Pegasus.
Responsibility of governments
- Cathcart placed the responsibility on both tech companies and governments.
- NSO severed its contract with Saudi Arabia after accusations by a journalist.
- He claimed that its software was used to hack his phone, which allowed Saudi agencies to track journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was assassinated in Istanbul.
Technology & Fundamental Rights
- WhatsApp has often claimed that its end-to-end encryption makes it a safe and private way to communicate. That claim is now being contested.
- In the digital age, companies will emerge and operate in the grey areas of the intersection between technology and security to make a profit.
- But national security must not be used as a shield by either governments or private players to justify the violation of fundamental rights.
- Right to privacy – India is a constitutional democracy where the courts have read the right to privacy in the right to life and liberty.
- Indian response – Law and IT minister said he has asked WhatsApp to explain the breach, while the home ministry has said it will take strict action against those violating the law.
- Actions in previous instances – Earlier, the Indian government and parliamentary committees have summoned executives from Facebook and Twitter.
- The vulnerability of India – Indians continue to be the largest user base for WhatsApp.
- Relation with Israel – India also enjoys close ties with Israel.
- Indian government must leverage its relationship with Israel to hold NSO to account.
- It must punish anyone found guilty of unlawfully violating the privacy of Indian citizens.
- The government has made it clear that it holds a sovereign right over the data of its citizens. The idea of data sovereignty must include a citizen’s right to privacy.
The government’s response in the aftermath of the WhatsApp hack will demonstrate its commitment to the rights enshrined in the Constitution.