U.S. blocklists Sandvine for enabling digital repression in Egypt

Stop mass surveillance in India: the government must be held accountable

Access Now demands that the Indian government’s surveillance impunity ends now.

A recent report by the Financial Times alleging that the Indian government is mandating the installation of “backdoor” surveillance equipment for telecommunications operation aggravates existing red flags around rights-damaging opacity and expansion of surveillance in India. The Indian government must publicly respond to the accusations, and commit to ending any unchecked surveillance regime in place.

It is alarming that despite claiming to be an ‘architect of the new digital economy,’ India has taken no concrete steps towards prohibiting mass surveillance technology or introducing any relevant safeguards against it. India is using its colonial era Telegraph Act to facilitate direct surveillance on the country’s internet infrastructure. This is being done despite legal challenges and its own data protection committee discerning the law as unfit. Raman Jit Singh Chima, Asia Pacific Policy Director at Access Now

Among all major democracies, India is an outlier for not modernising its surveillance law. The findings in the Financial Times article are just another brick in the wall of the Indian government’s continuing lack of accountability or meaningful engagement on surveillance reform. For instance, the government remains silent, including in courts and the parliament, on the alleged use of Pegasus spyware in violation of fundamental rights. India could take a cue from countries like the U.S. which blocklisted spyware companies citing security threats.

Telecommunications service providers in India also have a duty under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights to push back against backdoors providing authorities with all-encompassing access to people’s data without any judicial oversight, and violating people’s rights.

The opacity, centralisation, and unaccountability of India’s surveillance regime continue to undermine people’s rights to freedom of expression and privacy. It is crucial for India to meaningfully consult stakeholders and ensure that the development of digital architecture does not result in the creation of an enhanced, dangerous surveillance architecture. Broad claims of national security cannot justify blanket impediments on fundamental rights. Namrata Maheshwari, Asia Pacific Policy Counsel at Access Now

Furthermore, India is expanding its control over people’s data without adequate safeguards or independent oversight through the new Digital Personal Data Protection Act, 2023. Before its provisions come into force, the government must prioritise the feedback from civil society to strengthen privacy and facilitate accountability.

India’s ambitions to become a global leader in digital innovation and infrastructure will continue to fall short unless it adopts a rights-respecting model of privacy and data protection, and introduces meaningful surveillance reform which safeguards the right to privacy — particularly as the country prepares for the general election in 2024.