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Surveillance and hacking by Indian authorities? Civil society demands oversight

Four years ago this week, the Indian Supreme Court emphatically laid down that the right to privacy is a fundamental right in India, and that any government intrusion in that area must be tested against the strict standards of necessity and proportionality. Yet Indian authorities have allegedly been utilizing advanced spyware — including the NSO Group’s Pegasus tool — to target activists and apparent opponents. 

Through an open statement, Access Now, Human Rights Watch, and nine other international human rights organizations are calling for an immediate, independent investigation — one where the executive branch is prevented from interfering with institutional responsibility and remedy.

“Hacking is illegal under Indian law,” said Namrata Maheshwari, Encryption Policy Fellow at Access Now, “But there’s no other way to describe the allegations against the government. Civil society wants answers, and the people of India deserve accountability.”

The surveillance-via-hacking allegations come amid an intensifying crackdown on freedom of speech and peaceful assembly across the country, including the arrests of human rights defenders, peaceful protesters, and members of religious minorities. The Information Technology Rules that target social media services, digital news services, and curated video streaming sites, are also being hijacked to curb freedom of speech online.

“The Supreme Court of India’s emphatic ruling in the Puttaswamy case was a momentous step for global privacy and human rights. But today, it’s being erased by the impunity we are witnessing. The executive branch in India is brazenly seeking to prevent any independent inquiry into this surveillance and hacking scandal, and democracy will crumble if the Indian Supreme Court’s rulings on privacy and freedom remain only aspirational,” said Raman Jit Singh Chima, Asia Pacific Policy Director at Access Now

In parallel to independent oversight of state surveillance, authorities must put in place broad reforms to establish proper judicial and parliamentary oversight of government surveillance measures.

Read the full statement.