The Narendra Modi-led government at the Centre on Thursday told the Rajya Sabha that it was committed to protecting the fundamental right of its citizens to privacy and called reports of surveillance “completely misleading”, PTI reported.
Responding to a question on the safety of citizen’s data, Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the government operates strictly according to provisions of law and follows other protocols. “There are adequate safeguards to ensure that no innocent citizen is harassed or his or her privacy breached...The government is committed to protecting the fundamental rights of citizens, including the right to privacy,” he said.
The minister referred to Britain-based technology research firm Comparitech report highlighting that India ranks behind only Russia and China on surveillance of citizens. “From the media reports, the basis on which such a conclusion is drawn appears flimsy and questionable,” Prasad said. “Absence of data protection bill and a data protection authority as regulator has been cited but there are suitable provisions under the IT Act and work is in progress to bring in a law for data protection.”
He said it is a “baseless assumption” that Aadhaar database includes information of purchases, bank accounts and insurance. “For the security of Aadhaar data centres, UIDAI [Unique Identification Authority of India] has a well-designed, multi-layer robust security system in place and it is being constantly upgraded to maintain the highest level of data security and integrity,” Prasad said.
“The government’s request to WhatsApp regarding traceability without compromising on encryption has been wrongly projected as a possible privacy intrusion,” Prasad added.
The Union minister said the report jumped to a conclusion without taking into account the legal regime in India along with the checks and balances available. “These attempts to malign the government of India for reportedly surveilling citizens are completely misleading,” he said.
His comments came a day after the Union Cabinet approved the Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019, which proposes a framework for handling of private data by public and private entities.
In October, reports had revealed that a security breach on WhatsApp had targeted several Indian journalists, lawyers and activists in a two-week period in May. The spyware used for the purpose was Pegasus, which is sold only to government agencies, according to its Israeli owner NSO Group.