New Delhi- Apple's alert to several Indian opposition leaders, journalists, and activists, indicating that their phones were targeted by state-sponsored attackers, has sparked a political storm in India. The alert has reignited the controversy over the alleged use of spyware such as Pegasus by the Indian government to snoop on its critics and opponents. The government has denied any involvement in illegal surveillance and stated that it follows due process of the law.
However, opposition parties have accused the government of attempting to hack into their phones and demanded an independent inquiry into the matter. They also questioned why no member of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had confirmed receiving the warning from Apple.
The issue raises serious concerns about the state of India's digital security and democracy. It demonstrates how vulnerable India's citizens are to cyberattacks from both domestic and foreign actors, who can exploit the loopholes in India's legal and regulatory framework to access their personal data and communications. It also shows how the state is using its power and resources to suppress dissent and undermine democratic institutions, such as the parliament, the judiciary, and the media.
India urgently needs to address these challenges and strengthen its digital sovereignty and democratic accountability. It needs to enact a robust data protection law that protects the privacy and security of its citizens from unauthorized access and misuse. It needs to establish an independent oversight mechanism that monitors and regulates the use of surveillance technologies by the government and its agencies. It needs to ensure that the parliament and the judiciary have the authority and capacity to check and balance the executive's actions and decisions. It needs to respect and protect the freedom of expression and association of its citizens, especially those who voice dissenting opinions and expose wrongdoing.
Apple's alert is a wake-up call for India. It is a reminder that India's digital space is not a safe haven but a battleground where state-sponsored attackers can target anyone who poses a threat or challenge to their interests. It is also a reminder that India's democracy is not a given but a fragile achievement that needs constant vigilance and protection from those who seek to undermine it.
-Dr. Sandeep Yadav is an author, activist and academic at University of Delhi