Pegasus and Fables of National Security

Pegasus 1

Government pleads in Supreme Court  in defence of its stubborn refusal to disclose if it has used Pegasus spyware against civilian targets,that terrorists might disappear from the radar if the answer is made public.But the moment it became known that it could be used against suspected terrorists,they would have taken prompt  precaution to disable the spyware or dive deeper into the digital cavern. Unless they are absolute duffers rather keen on coming under limelight when caught.Citizens are less fortunate in that they are both unaware and incapable of countering such abuse of law.

Pegasus hit the headlines when Whatsapp revealed to its customers, and government, that some of them have been snooped upon through Pegasus. It created a stir but died down when nobody seemed to know what to do about it.The IT minister Ravishankar Prasad came down

heavily upon Whatsapp when it later came up with a peculiar privacy policy that appeared to turn on its head the very notion of privacy.Security seemed to become  unlimited access of  service provider to private data of the hapless customer.We guarantee,it seemed to say,complete security to your data if you leave them in our possession.

National security is also a  serious business as it concerns the sovereignty of the nation and the safety of lives and property of the  people.National security,the government might be suggesting,is safest when the private space of any or all citizens is occupied and watched by it.Some will find this plea quite reasonable,except those dunderheads nursing a suspicion of the government,which has the holiest of intentions.

Pegasus seems to have turned up at the same time as the formidably wily  Benjamin Netanyuhu of Israel was hand in gloves with our leaders.So the common Indian became more curious about his Protean capabilities.As a tough guy he used all means,literally all means, to keep himself in power through all kinds of scrapes.Did he use Pegasus to stay ahead of his rivals for years together?Difficult to say since the Israeli firm marketing it would not respond to such a question.

But it is obvious that if through the alibi of national security it is operated by an incumbent government,it will have an enormous advantage over its political rivals.

It will have prior knowledge of every move of its rivals and will be in a position to frustrate or disarm their plans.Besides its prior knowledge might enable it to plant agents to mislead and doom its opponents’ campaigns.

Journalists swayed by vain ideas of their integrity can be prevented from filing their stories with a direct phone -call to the management or the story could be deactivated like a virus with stories bearing opposite content.A storm could be raised on social media about his loyalty to the nation or to his profession.True,he will also have friends and followers who won’t be taken in.But the threat to the government will be greatly weakened or nullified.

One feature of this apparatus has not been much discussed.That is its potential use to implant and infiltrate into  the targeted person’s phone false,misleading or incriminating data,the kind of use that the Bhima Koregaon accused have allegedly been subjected to.

Such deployment practically enables the government through its security agencies to influence and manipulate the behaviour of the targetted individual.And he would be convinced he was acting completely on his own,a volitionally free agent.With sufficient planning and skill he could be steered into involvement even in terrorist acts, made to fall out with faithful friends and allies,and act in ways that would completely destroy things he valued most.The police might become criminalised elements not above the level of private armies of drug lords.Even a  judge might be trapped in ways beyond his legal acumen and wisdom to take biased  or hesitant positions in cases embarassing to the government. Frightening, you say.Yes,but entirely possible with this kind of powerful device.The Dystopia may have already arrived in some parts of the world.

If such practices are sought to be  condoned by invoking hallowed national security,then there is only one remedy against their dreadful illegality. Make sure that the government of the country is not enabled to guarantee its own probity.The secrets of the state must not be a government monopoly.The  opposition must be made part of the mechanism of legislative oversight and monitoring.Policies guiding intelligence operation must be reviewed from time to time by parliament and the highest court in the land so that they do not go against the constitution.That must be made mandatory.Otherwise democracy will turn into  a shadow- play directed by power-hungry thugs.

Hiren Gohain is a political commentator

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