India’s laws enable government and private companies to surveil its citizens without court-approved warrants, raising global concerns and criticism, reports Financial Times. This is part of a growing surveillance regime that includes companies like Vehere, Cognyte, and Septier, and has been compared to the interception laws of Uganda and Rwanda. The report highlights the Pegasus spyware scandal and a criticized personal data protection bill as part of broader concerns about India’s surveillance practices.
India’s lawful interception monitoring systems are providing a backdoor for the government to snoop on its citizens, as part of a growing surveillance regime, reports The Financial Times. The government mandates telecommunication networks to install hardware that pumps data to Indian security agencies on demand. This is fuelling private companies that sell powerful surveillance tools, such as Vehere, Cognyte, and Septier. The latter was termed a “potentially irresponsible proliferator” by the Atlantic Council in 2021.
India’s requirement for telecom companies to install government-approved surveillance equipment at subsea cable landing stations and data centres is unusual compared to other democracies. This comes after the Snowden tapes revealed mass surveillance via backdoor arrangements by US and UK intelligence agencies, leading telecom companies to push back on government pressure for unfettered access to customer data. However, India, Uganda, and Rwanda have similar interception laws, and India’s telecom usage has significantly increased in recent years.
Several companies are involved in India’s surveillance regime. Septier, an Israel-based company, has sold its lawful interception technology to telecom groups like Reliance Jio, Vodafone Idea, and Singtel. Another Israel-based company, Cognyte, and Vehere, headquartered in India and the US, are also relevant players in this context. Despite attempts by The Financial Times to contact the government of India, Cognyte, Vehere, Reliance Jio, and Singtel for comments, there was no response, except from Vodafone Idea, which stated its compliance with government regulations.
Concerns about India’s surveillance regime have grown since the deployment of Pegasus spyware by the Israeli group NSO, which triggered a political scandal when the hacking tool was found on the phones of journalists and activists in 2019 and 2021. The recently passed personal data protection bill has been criticized for protecting governments from scrutiny rather than citizens, providing legal cover for surveillance. Critics argue that the bill’s ambiguity allows the government to make arbitrary decisions.