Mar 2, 2022

Pegasus Snooping Surveillance: What can you do if it happens to you?

The West Bengal Government has constituted a committee to look into the Pegasus Snooping Scandal, led by the Retired Justice Madan Lokur. This is in response to a global collaborative investigative project finding that Israeli spyware Pegasus was used to target at least 300 individuals in India.


What is surveillance?

Surveillance is the monitoring of behavior, activities, or information for the purpose of gathering information. It is a crime in India and only the Government has the power to do it in certain circumstances. If any other individual or corporation does the same, it is a crime.


What laws allow surveillance in India?


In India there are two main laws that allow surveillance by the Government:


The Telegraph Act

As per this law, the government can intercept calls only in certain situations including reasons such as:

  • Interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India,
  • Security of the state,
  • Friendly relations with foreign states or public order,
  • Preventing incitement to the commission of an offence.


These are also the same restrictions imposed on free speech under Article 19(2) of the Constitution. However, this can happen only in situations of public emergencies or when the question of public safety comes into picture. Everytime any surveillance is done, the Government has to record it in writing and gather this information. 


Information Technology Act, 2000


Section 69 of the Information Technology Act and the Information Technology (Procedure for Safeguards for Interception, Monitoring and Decryption of Information) Rules, 2009 are two laws that allow for electronic surveillance of individuals. However, the reason for surveillance is quite broad, as compared to the Telegraph Act, as the Government can use surveillance methods to investigate any offence or crime. 


Is surveillance a violation of an individual’s right to privacy?


The Supreme Court in K.S. Puttaswamy v. Union of India, 2017 held that the very existence of a surveillance system impacts the right to privacy and the exercise of freedom of speech and personal liberty under Articles 19 and 21 of the Constitution of India, 1950.


Is it a crime to access someone’s computer or data without their permission?

Yes, hacking or any form of access to a computer resource or any form of communication like a phone is a crime in India. Some crimes and pun

  • As per Section 43 and 66, accessing, downloading, monitoring any computer or resource illegally is punishable and the person doing the same shall be liable to pay compensation to the person affected. Further, as per Section 66 of the IT Act, for any crime including criminal offences of data theft and hacking, the punishment is imprisonment term of three years or a fine upto five five lakh rupees or with both.
  • Section 66B covers punishment for dishonestly receiving stolen computer resources or communication devices. The punishment for this crime is imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years.


What can you do if this happens to you?


You can approach the police or your State Cyber cells for filing a complaint against cybercrime. You can also file an online complaint through the National Cyber Crime Reporting Portal.

To know more about online abuse and how to report it, read our explainer.