The Pegasus Affair: Another Watergate?

Markandey Katju

Markandey Katju

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Whether the government had purchased the Pegasus spyware may be probed in an enquiry, but I doubt anything will follow.

The Opposition has raised a big hue and cry over the Pegasus affair. Although the Govt has not admitted use of Pegasus, let us assume it did.

The issue has two aspects : the legal, and the realistic.

pegasusLegally, there seems to be no doubt that the snooping was illegal. The right to privacy has been held to be a fundamental right by a 9 Judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court in K.S.Puttuswamy vs Union of India.

No doubt this is not an absolute right, and the government can do telephone tapping or interference in other devices on the ground of state security, alleged criminal activity, etc vide section 69 of the Information Technology Act and section 5(2) of the Indian Telegraph Act. But it cannot do snooping beyond that.

However, the reality is different. Most governments do snooping on their political opponents. This was mentioned 2000 years ago by Kautilya in his ‘Arthashastra’, and in 1513 by Machiavelli in ‘The Prince’.

Giani Zail Singh with Rajiv Gandhi

Nearer time, there are many instances of snooping under Congress rule. President Giani Zail Singh alleged that Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi got his telephone bugged, as he regarded Zail Singh as unreliable.

Pranab Mukherjee, who was then Union Finance Minister in 2010, alleged bugging of his office by the Union Home Ministry, then under P. Chidambaram, and he wrote a letter to the then PM Manmohan Singh asking for an enquiry.

A long list of other such instances can be given. It is alleged that the telephones of every President of India were bugged.

pagasus
Edward Snowden

So what is all the fuss about? Modern technology has developed to such an extent that snooping is easy, as Edward Snowden revealed.

Whether the government had purchased the Pegasus spyware may be probed in an enquiry, but I doubt anything will follow.

In the fast developing events in India, other issues will soon overshadow this one, and it is unlikely there will be another Watergate.

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Markandey Katju

Markandey Katju

Justice Markandey Katju is former Judge, Supreme Court of India and former Chairman, Press Council of India.

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