Who are the people in the world's nations that call the shots in governance and steer regimes? Is it governments or espionage entities? This question is prompted by a report titled 'Pegasus Project' as the outcome of an investigative analysis by a group of international media with the help of civil rights bodies. What have emerged are details about the unhindered hacking of mobile phones of people from a range of domains from judges, political leaders and mediapersons to human rights activists of various countries. Data have thus been hacked by employing the espionage expertise of NSO, the hi-tech spyware-producing technology outfit of Israel - a country adept at, and claiming it as its right, peeping and intruding into people's privacy and rights, and a country that boasts of its espionage capabilities as a feather on its diplomatic cap. In countries bereft of any democratic order, this model of data gathering and surveillance using such means are standard practice long known to exist. But the revelation that in India, known for its democratic traditions, over three hundred phones of those including a Supreme Court judge, media persons, civil rights activists, ministers and industry leaders were hacked and data extracted, is a serious and clear index of the dangerous path the state is in.
Since the list of people whose phones were hacked is pretty long, the media are still in the process of verifying and disclosing who they are. It has by now been confirmed that it includes two very powerful ministers of the Union cabinet, some Opposition leaders, and journalists handling crucial beats in different national media. Most of the journalists are those who have pointed fingers at political developments that impinges on the sovereignty of the country. Also subject to the surveillance lense were the phones of the Elgar Parishad case accused, who are noted human rights advocates accused of conspiracy to assassinate the prime minister and were arrested on that charge by National Investigation Agency (NIA). Their close relatives and followers are also victim to this operation. For quite some time, complaints have been raised that in democratic India too, journalists and civil rights champions have been under close watch of espionage networks, although the government has not been prepared to acknowledge it. True, the revelation about Elgar Parishad case accused is not anything new since even earlier, disclosures had been made that computers of many accused were hacked and forged evidence planted in them. But the logic and aim behind the hacking of phones of judges, members of the cabinet and intelligence heads, belong more to the realm of the inscrutable. Who would be the beneficiary of such leaked intelligence? If judges and security heads were thus exposed, who can conduct the audit about the damage so caused to Indian judiciary and national security?
One thing is clearly stated by NSO, which conducted the espionage: they don't do it for any private individuals but will sell services, equipment and software only to "vetted governments". All the same, the government swears that its hands have no blood in this deal! But then, if such a grave breach of privacy has happened in India without the knowledge of the government, the seriousness of the matter becomes all the deeper. If the government does not have any role in any of this, why should it delay declaring a high-level and independent probe into the episode? The union government should either show the candour to acknowledge that this was done by itself. Or else, the people will have reason to suspect that the wheels of power are wielded by a mysterious clique that stands above the democratic government that the citizenry has voted to power.