Reports that India has been carrying out “no unauthorised surveillance” (otherwise known as authorised surveillance) on at least 1,000 Indians using Pegasus has angered the global terrorist community. The world’s leading terrorist organisations have condemned India’s snooping policy, terming it “exclusivist” and “discriminatory against terrorists and other entities that pose a genuine threat to national security”.
In a virtual press conference that was boycotted by all the Pegasus-using countries, the spokesperson of an award-winning international terror group said, “We are deeply disturbed by the Indian government’s practice of using their tax payers’ money to purchase the super-expensive Pegasus spyware and use it exclusively on innocent citizens while completely ignoring the lawful recipients of such unlawful surveillance, namely, the terrorist community. We terrorists, therefore, call upon India to adopt a more inclusive surveillance policy under which, in addition to Gandhians, peace-loving activists, and assorted victims of state-sponsored abusive incarceration, Pegasus will also be used to snoop on terrorists, spies, and at least one or two authentically evil people, preferably those verified with a blue tick.”
Two for one
For this column I interviewed 56 India-based terrorists through 112 carrier pigeons (my questions were divided into two sections, Part A and Part B, hence two pigeons per respondent).
The answers I received were quite revealing, and I am sharing them here in the hope that India’s security establishment will take note of it.
The most significant finding was that 90% of terrorists in India feel “insulted and humiliated at being totally bypassed” by the Pegasus Snoop India Mission (PSIM). “To think that the government of India considers journalists, Opposition leaders, social activists, random secretarial staff, and even an Election Commissioner to be a bigger threat than a genuine terrorist like me is seriously discouraging,” said a young terrorist who has been freely using three cell phones without any of them ever being tapped by state agencies.
“This government is being hypocritical,” said another upcoming terrorist who specialises in subverting democracies by getting governments to divert resources from healthcare and education to defence and security. “They keep saying combating terrorism is their top priority. If that is true, why didn’t they nominate even a single terrorist for PSIM?”
In fact, some terror groups are planning to move the Supreme Court to demand an independent probe by a former or sitting apex court judge on why the Pegasus targets in India did not include a single terror suspect. They may have a strong case, for legal experts agree that a surveillance policy which discriminates against a community on the basis of their occupation violates the Constitution. Well-known constitutional expert Nariman Pointwala, who, surprisingly enough, lives in Dombivli, told me, “A government whose only aim is to stay in power until humans are exterminated by predator aliens, climate change, or both, may be uninterested in the private conversations of terrorists. But that doesn’t mean they can exclude them altogether from surveillance.”
Sources within the security establishment point out that the Pegasus story, broken by a dangerous cabal of 17 news organisations, has come out at the wrong time. “It could have a chilling effect on surveillance in India,” said well-known spy and prime time celebrity, Brigadier (Retd) Thuppakki Thalaiyan. He added, “It is annoying that people with zero experience in spying are commenting on spying, while those who actually did the spying remain unheard, unknown, and unacknowledged. Do you know that among the world’s poorest democracies, India is the only one with the courage to invest thousands of crores in state-of-the-art snooping technology? When will Indians learn to appreciate the achievements of their own government?”
Industry, too, is worried. “The Indian surveillance industry is still in its infancy,” pointed out Mr. Bansal Jain Gupta, co-founder of Tap-Hub, a start-up that offers customised snooping solutions for anyone with a husband. “Let me ask you a simple question: How many people do you know who regularly use spyware to snoop on their friends, family members or office colleagues?”
“Zero,” I said.
“Exactly,” said Mr. Bansal Jain Gupta. “The potential market is huge. But now this Pegasus issue has unleashed massive propaganda about privacy, which is supposed to exist. Don’t people realise that even ‘privacy’ has ‘pry’ in it?”
Meanwhile, strategic experts are coming around to the view that unless India drastically expands its surveillance policy to make it truly inclusive, terrorists might resort to unorthodox tactics to grab headlines. This was borne out by my research as well. One of the terrorists I interviewed said, “If the government of India won’t listen to us in the same way it listens to non-violent dissenters — that is, by using the latest Pegasus technology — then we will also give up arms and adopt non-violent means. This is not an empty threat. We are ready to start an independent news portal, file RTI requests, and fight for the rights of Dalits, farmers, adivasis and religious minorities if that’s what it takes for someone to be treated as a terrorist in this country.”
G. Sampath, author of this satire, is Social Affairs Editor, The Hindu .