1. Pegasus Case: The Centre must fully cooperate with the inquiry instituted by the SC on spyware use

Context: A Supreme Court order instituted an independent probe into the possible use of Israeli spyware Pegasus is an effective intervention to protect citizens from unlawful surveillance.

  • It also gave a stern rebuff to the Government’s attempt to cover up the issue by using the bogey of ‘national security’.

Problems of Pegasus:

  • Surveillance on Prominent Indians: The revelations were made that nearly 300 of some 50,000 Indian phone numbers allegedly identified for surveillance.
  • No credible enquiry: Government would choose to brazen it out rather than hold or facilitate a credible inquiry.
  • A foreign company: It means that the data was shared with the Israeli firm too.
  • Unlimited Surveillance: many phones of journalists, activists and even doctors and court staff were targets of military-grade spyware designed not only to grab data but also take control of devices.
  • Government apathy to the situation: the Government was unwilling even to disclose what action had been taken after it admitted in Parliament in 2019 that it was aware of some WhatsApp users being targeted by Pegasus.

The SC Order:  

  • The 46-page order by a Bench headed by the Chief Justice of India, N.V. Ramana, stands out for the enunciation of two clear principles:
    • that surveillance, or even the knowledge that one could be spied upon, affects the way individuals exercise their rights, warranting the Court’s intervention; and
    • that there is no omnibus prohibition on judicial review merely because the spectre of national security is being raised.
  • The Court deemed unacceptable the Government’s refusal to shed any light on a controversy that involves possible violation of citizens’ rights and made it clear that national security considerations cannot be used by the state “to get a free pass”.
  • The Court has approached the issue as one that raises an “Orwellian concern”, recognising that intrusive surveillance not only violates the right to privacy but also has a chilling effect on the freedom of the press.

About Pegasus :

  • Pegasus or Q Suite, marketed by the NSO Group aka Q Cyber Technologies as “a world-leading cyber intelligence solution that enables law enforcement and intelligence agencies to remotely and covertly extract” data “from virtually any mobile devices”, was developed by veterans of Israeli intelligence agencies.
  • A new spying mechanism Mechanism:
    • A portable Base Transceiver Station (BTS) — or ‘rogue cell tower’ or ‘IMSI Catcher’ or ‘stingray’ — impersonates legitimate cellular towers and forces mobile phones within a radius to connect to it, so that the intercepted traffic can be manipulated by an attacker. The BTS photographed in 2019 was composed of horizontally-stacked cards, likely to allow interception over multiple frequency bands.
    • Pegasus’s method performed remotely without the target’s engagement or knowledge, hence, also called zero-click Installation(for example, through missed call)This gave Pegasus, NSO Group’s flagship product, an unique edge over its competitors in the global spyware market.
  • Old methods: Phishing/Social engineering – relying on SMS and WhatsApp messages to trick targets into opening a malicious link, which would lead to infection of their mobile devices.
  • Reporting:
    • Over the years, Apple and whatsapp have flagged various attempts to exploit the vulnerabilities of their system.
    • India’s The Wire, titled the ‘Pegasus Project’. Reports say that over “300 verified Indian mobile telephone numbers, including those used by ministers, opposition leaders, journalists, the legal community, businessmen, government officials, scientists, rights activists and others”, were targeted using spyware made by the Israeli firm, NSO Group.
  • Problem: Upon installation, Pegasus contacts the attacker’s command and control (C&C) servers to receive and execute instructions and send back the target’s private data, including passwords, contact lists, calendar events, text messages, and live voice calls (even those via end-to-end-encrypted messaging apps). The attacker can control the phone’s camera and microphone, and use the GPS function to track a target.
  • Government response:  it resorted to a bald claim that illegal surveillance is not possible in India, and that the disclosure of whether or not a particular software suite was used by its agencies would compromise national security.

2. Welfare initiatives embody civil rights, whereas freebies cultivate a patron-client syndrome

Context:  The line between welfarism and populism has blurred with various populist measures across India.

Welfare initiatives include:

  • a targeted Public Distribution System,
  • providing social security for labourers,
  • quality education,
  • fair employment,
  • affordable healthcare,
  • decent housing, and
  • protection from exploitation and violence.

Freebies, on the other hand, are provided to attract voters to cast their vote in a particular election.

  • They create limited private benefit for the receiver and do not contribute towards strengthening public goods/facilities.

A freebie culture in India

  • It was started during the 1967 Tamil Nadu Assembly elections. The then Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) chief C.N. Annadurai offered three measures of rice for ₹1. Such practice was followed by subsequent CMs of both the DMK and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), who promised free TV sets, free laptops to students, free rides for women in buses, free gas cylinders and stoves, a goat and a cow for poor farmers, and so on.
  • AAP government has announced free rides for women in metro trains and buses, free electricity for people who use up to 200 units, waiver of arrears in water bills, and extension of free entrance coaching to all students whose annual family income is less than ₹8 lakh.
  • Free cycles and free laptops to girls in UP and Bihar.


  • Encourage personality cult: Unsolicited freebies cultivate a patron-client syndrome and encourage personality cults in a democratic polity.
  • Degradation of a voter: Besides, they affect the critical faculties of citizens, particularly the poor and the marginalised.
  • Degradation of a citizen: Providing freebies is to treat people like subjects, whereas citizens are entitled to constitutional guarantees.
  • Against neo-liberal paradigm: A neoliberal economy encourages private capital and the market, while forcing the state to withdraw from welfare.
  • Diverts money from welfare: including better education, health and other facilities.

Conclusion: Welfare initiatives are an embodiment of civil rights, whereas unsolicited freebies show benevolence at best and apathy at worst towards the poor by the ruling parties.

  • Political parties and civil society should consider quality aspects in education, healthcare and employment and ensure fair distribution and redistribution of resources for the marginalised communities. The dichotomy between welfare and unsolicited freebies or populism must be understood , so that the constitutional ideal of a secular, egalitarian and democratic India can be realised.


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