Contents

  1. Pegasus spyware issue in India Explained
  2. SC quashes parts of the 97th amendment
  3. Oxfam report on sharp inequalities in health indicators
  4. SC on ‘punishment’ for political parties facing contempt

Pegasus spyware issue in India Explained

Context:

At least a 1,000 Indian phone numbers are in a list of potential targets of surveillance using the Pegasus spyware sold by Israeli company the NSO Group to “vetted governments”.

The evidence is strong that Indian citizens were indeed targets of a vicious, abominable and uncivil surveillance campaign by a government entity, Indian or foreign.

Relevance:

GS-III: Internal Security Challenges (Basics of Cyber Security; Role of media and social-networking sites in internal security challenges; Internal security challenges through communication networks), GS-II: Polity and Governance (Constitutional Provisions, Fundamental Rights, Important Judgements)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. About the Pegasus Project
  2. How dangerously compromising is Pegasus?
  3. What is a spyware and what are other similar types of Cyber Attacks?
  4. Pegasus in the news in the past
  5. About the Pegasus Attacks in India
  6. Issues in the past regarding Government’s surveillance
  7. Legislations on Surveillance
  8. K.S. Puttaswamy judgment, 2017 regarding Surveillance
  9. Various recommendations in the past regarding Surveillance

About the Pegasus Project

  • Pegasus is a type of malicious software or malware classified as a spyware that enables law enforcement and intelligence agencies to remotely and covertly extract” data “from virtually any mobile devices”
  • Pegasus is designed to gain access to devices, without the knowledge of users, and gather personal information and relay it back to whoever it is that is using the software to spy.
  • A zero-click attack helps spyware like Pegasus gain control over a device without human interaction or human error. Pegasus can infect a device without the target’s engagement or knowledge. So, all awareness about how to avoid a phishing attack or which links not to click are pointless.
  • Pegasus was developed by the Israeli firm NSO Group that was set up in 2010 and since then NSO’s attack capabilities have become more advanced.

How dangerously compromising is Pegasus?

  • 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.
  • To avoid extensive bandwidth consumption that may alert a target, Pegasus sends only scheduled updates to a C&C server.
  • The spyware is designed to evade forensic analysis, avoid detection by anti-virus software, and can be deactivated and removed by the attacker, when and if necessary.

What is a spyware and what are other similar types of Cyber Attacks?

What is Malware?

  • Malware is short for malicious software and it is a catch-all term for various malicious software, including viruses, adware, spyware, browser hijacking software, and fake security software.
  • Ransomware, Spyware, Worms, viruses, and Trojans are all varieties of malware.

Types of Malware

  • Viruses which are the most commonly-known form of malware and potentially the most destructive. They can do anything from erasing the data on your computer to hijacking your computer to attack other systems, send spam, or host and share illegal content.
  • Worm is a type of malware that spreads copies of itself from computer to computer which can replicate itself without any human interaction, and it does not need to attach itself to a software program in order to cause damage.
  • Trojan is a type of malware that is often disguised as legitimate software which can be employed by cyber-thieves and hackers trying to gain access to users’ systems.
  • Spyware collects your personal information and passes it on to interested third parties without your knowledge or consent. Spyware is also known for installing Trojan viruses.
  • Ransomware is malware that employs encryption to hold a victim’s information at ransom.
  • Adware displays pop-up advertisements when you are online.
  • Fake security software poses as legitimate software to trick you into opening your system to further infection, providing personal information, or paying for unnecessary or even damaging “clean ups”.
  • Browser hijacking software changes your browser settings (such as your home page and toolbars), displays pop-up ads and creates new desktop shortcuts. It can also relay your personal preferences to interested third parties.

Pegasus in the news in the past

  • The earliest version of Pegasus discovered, which was captured by researchers in 2016, infected phones through what is called spear-phishing – text messages or emails that trick a target into clicking on a malicious link.
  • In 2019, WhatsApp blamed the NSO Group for exploiting a vulnerability in its video-calling feature which secretly transmitted malicious code in an effort to infect the victim’s phone with spyware without the person even having to answer the call.
  • In 2020, a Citizen Lab report flagged how government operatives used Pegasus to hack 37 phones belonging to journalists, producers, anchors, and executives at Al Jazeera and London-based Al Araby TV

About the Pegasus Attacks in India

  • Human Rights activists, journalists and lawyers around the world have been targeted with phone malware sold to authoritarian governments by an Israeli surveillance firm.
  • Indian ministers, government officials and opposition leaders also figure in the list of people whose phones may have been compromised by the spyware.
  • Indian politicians and journalists, several Delhi-based diplomats, employees of international NGOs like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation etc., have been reported to be present in the list of those targeted by the Pegasus Spyware.
  • The Indian government has denied any wrong doing or carrying out any unauthorised surveillance, but has not confirmed or denied whether it has purchased or deployed Pegasus spyware.

Issues in the past regarding Government’s surveillance

  • In 2012 in Himachal Pradesh, the new government raided police agencies and recovered over a lakh phone conversations of over a thousand people, mainly political members, and many senior police officials, including the Director General of Police (DGP), who is legally responsible for conducting phone taps in the State.
  • In 2013, India’s current Home Minister Amit Shah was embroiled in a controversy dubbed “Snoopgate”, with phone recordings alleged to be of him speaking to the head of an anti-terrorism unit to conduct covert surveillance on a young architect and her family members without any legal basis as there was no order signed by the State’s Home Secretary (a legal necessity for a phone tap).
  • In 2009, the United Progressive Alliance government swore in an affidavit in the Supreme Court that the CBDT had placed a PR professional, under surveillance due to fears of her being a foreign spy (not prosecuted later on).

Such examples of unlawful surveillance which seem to be for political and personal gain are antithetical to the basic creed of democracy and they bring up the need for ensuring that the surveillance is necessary and proportionate.

Legislations on Surveillance

  • The laws authorising interception and monitoring of communications are:
    1. Section 92 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC)
    2. Rule 419A of the Telegraph Rules, and
    3. The rules under Sections 69 and 69B of the IT Act

Who can conduct Surveillance?

A limited number of agencies are provided powers to intercept and monitor.

  • In 2014, the Ministry of Home Affairs told Parliament that nine central agencies and the DGPs of all States and Delhi were empowered to conduct interception under the Indian Telegraph Act.
  • In 2018, nine central agencies and one State agency were authorised to conduct intercepts under Section 69 of the IT Act.
  • The Intelligence Organisations Act, which restricts the civil liberties of intelligence agency employees, only lists four agencies, while the RTI Act lists 22 agencies as “intelligence and security organisations established by the central government” that are exempt from the RTI Act.

K.S. Puttaswamy judgment, 2017 regarding Surveillance

  • The K.S. Puttaswamy judgment, 2017, made it clear that any invasion of privacy could only be justified if it satisfied three tests:
    1. The restriction must be by law;
    2. It must be necessary (only if other means are not available) and proportionate (only as much as needed);
    3. It must promote a legitimate state interest (e.g., national security).
  • It was held that privacy concerns in this day and age of technology can arise from both the state as well as non-state entities and as such, a claim of violation of privacy lies against both of them.
  • The Court also held that informational privacy in the age of the internet is not an absolute right and when an individual exercises his right to control over his data, it may lead to the violation of his privacy to a considerable extent.
  • It was also laid down that the ambit of Article 21 is ever-expanding due to the agreement over the years among the Supreme Court judges as a result of which a plethora of rights has been included within Article 21.
  • The court stated that Right to Privacy is an inherent and integral part of Part III of the Constitution that guarantees fundamental rights. The conflict in this area mainly arises between an individual’s right to privacy and the legitimate aim of the government to implement its policies and a balance needs to be maintained while doing the same.

Various recommendations in the past regarding Surveillance

  • In 2010, then Vice-President alled for a legislative basis for India’s agencies, and the creation of a standing committee of Parliament on intelligence to ensure that they remain accountable and respectful of civil liberties.
  • In 2011, the Cabinet Secretary in a note on surveillance held that the Central Board of Direct Taxes having interception powers was a continuing violation of a 1975 Supreme Court judgment on the Telegraph Act.
  • In 2013, the Ministry of Defence-funded think-tank published a report which recommended that the intelligence agencies in India must be provided a legal framework for their existence and functioning; their functioning must be under Parliamentary oversight and scrutiny.
  • In 2018, the Srikrishna Committee on data protection noted that post the K.S. Puttaswamy judgment, most of India’s intelligence agencies are “potentially unconstitutional”, since they are not constituted under a statute passed by Parliament — the National Investigation Agency being an exception.

Click Here to read about Cyber Attacks, International legislative responses and cooperation regarding cybercrime and more

-Source: The Hindu, Indian Express


SC quashes parts of the 97th amendment

Context:

The Supreme Court in a 2:1 majority verdict upheld the validity of the 97th constitutional amendment that deals with issues related to effective management of cooperative societies but struck down a part inserted by it which relates to the Constitution and working of cooperative societies.

Relevance:

GS-II: Polity and Governance (Constitutional Provisions, Judiciary, Government policies and interventions, Issues arising out of the design and implementation of these policies)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. What are Cooperative Societies?
  2. Cooperative Movement
  3. Provisions in the Constitution regarding Cooperative societies
  4. 97th Amendment
  5. Issue with the 97th Amendment
  6. About the Recent Supreme Court Ruling on the 97th Amendment

What are Cooperative Societies?

  • The Cooperative Societies can be defined as an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise”.
  • The Cooperative Movement was started by the weaker sections of society for protecting its members from the clutches of large profit hungry businesses.

Cooperative Movement

In pre-Independence era

  • The British government came forward and passed three acts- the Deccan Agriculture Relief Act (1879), the Land Improvement Loan Act (1883) and the Agriculturists Loan Act (1884) – when farmers agitated against extortion by money-lenders.
  • However, that Cooperative movement was introduced with structure and shape when the British enacted the Cooperative Credit Societies Act, 1904.
  • In 1919, Cooperative societies became a provincial subject and the provinces were authorised to make their own cooperative laws under the Montague-Chelmsford Reforms.

After Independence

  • After independence cooperatives became an integral part of Five-Year Plans.
  • In 1958, the National Development Council (NDC) had recommended a national policy on cooperatives and also for training of personnel’s and setting up of Co-operative Marketing Societies.
  • In 1984, Parliament of India enacted the Multi-State Cooperative Societies Act to remove the plethora of different laws governing the same types of societies.

Provisions in the Constitution regarding Cooperative societies

  • Directive Principles of State Policy enshrines under article 43 that- the State shall endeavour to promote cottage industries on an individual or co-operative basis in rural areas.
  • Right to form cooperatives can also be construed as a Fundamental Right, Article 14 – (Right to Equality) and Article 19(1)(c) as ‘Right to form Associations or Unions.
  • The Constitution (Ninety Seventh Amendment) Act 2011 relating to the co-operatives is aimed to encourage economic activities of cooperatives which in turn help progress of rural India.

97th Amendment

  • In Part III of the constitution, after words “or unions” the words “Cooperative Societies” was added. This enables all the citizens to form cooperatives by giving it the status of fundamental right of citizens.
  • In Part IV a new Article 43B was inserted, which says: The state shall endeavour to promote voluntary formation, autonomous functioning, democratic control and professional management of the co-operative societies”.
  • After Part IXA of the constitution, a Part IXB was inserted to accommodate state vs centre roles.

Issue with the 97th Amendment

  • The provisions in the Amendment were passed by Parliament without getting them ratified by State legislatures as required by the Constitution.
  • It went to the extent of determining the number of directors a society should have or their length of tenure and even the necessary expertise required to become a member of the society.

Central Government’s Argument

  • It justified that the government was injecting ‘professionalism’ and autonomy into the functioning of the societies.
  • Lack of accountability by the members has led to poor services and low productivity.
  • Even elections are not held on time. Co-operatives need to run on well-established democratic principles.

About the Recent Supreme Court Ruling on the 97th Amendment

  • The constitution has been described as quasi-federal in that, so far as legislative powers are concerned, though there is a tilt in favour of the Centre vis-à-vis the States given the federal supremacy principle. However, within their own sphere, the States have exclusive power to legislate on topics reserved exclusively to them.
  • Part IX B, which consists of Articles 243ZH to 243ZT, has “significantly and substantially impacted” State legislatures’ “exclusive legislative power” over its co-operative sector under Entry 32 of the State List.
  • The 97th Constitutional Amendment required ratification by at least one-half of the state legislatures as per Article 368(2) of the Constitution, since it dealt with an entry which was an exclusive state subject (co-operative societies). Since such ratification was not done in the case of the 97th amendment, it was liable to be struck down.
  • The SC did not strike down the portions of Part IXB of the Amendment concerning ‘Multi State Co-operative Societies (MSCS)’ due to the lack of ratification. MSCS have objects not confined to one State, the legislative power would be that of the Union of India which is contained in Entry 44 List I (Union List).
  • It is declared that Part IXB of the Constitution is operative only insofar as it concerns multi-State cooperative societies both within the various States and in the Union Territories.

-Source: The Hindu


Oxfam report on sharp inequalities in health indicators

Context:

Sharp inequalities exist across different caste, religious, class and gender categories on various health indicators, according to a recent report by Oxfam India.

Relevance:

GS-II: Social Justice (Issues Related to Poverty, Issues related to Minorities, SCs & STs & Women, Human Resource)

Dimensions of the Article:

1.        Highlights of the India Inequality Report 2021

2.        Way Forwards – Recommendations in the report

Highlights of the India Inequality Report 2021

General Observation on Healthcare

  • On various health indicators, the Oxfam report found that the performance of sections of the society had inequalities such that:
    • General category performs better than SCs and STs;
    • Hindus perform better than Muslims;
    • The Rich perform better than the Poor;
    • Men perform better than Women; and
    • The Urban population performs better than Rural population.
  • The States that have been reducing inequalities (such as inequalities to access to health between the general category and SC and ST populations) for the past few years have less confirmed cases of Covid – such as Telangana, Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan.
  • States that have had higher GDP expenditure on health, such as Assam, Bihar and Goa, have higher recovery rates of Covid cases.
  • Kerala invested in infrastructure to create a multi-layered health system, designed to provide first-contact access for basic services at the community level and expanded primary healthcare coverage to achieve access to a range of preventive and curative services.
  • The National Health Profile in 2017 recorded one government allopathic doctor for about every 10 thousand people and one state-run hospital for about every 90 thousand people.
  • The investment in public health infrastructure is so little that the number of beds in the country has actually come down, from 9 beds per 10,000 persons in the 2010 Human Development Report, to only 5 beds per 10,000 persons in 2021.
  • India also ranks the lowest in the number of hospital beds per thousand population among the BRICS nations at 0.5. It is lower than lesser developed countries such as Bangladesh (0.87), Chile (2.11) and Mexico (0.98).

On Women Literacy

  • While women’s literacy has improved across social groups over the years, SC and ST women lag behind the general category by 18% and 28%, respectively.
  • Though the female literacy rate among Muslims (64%) is lower than all religious groups, inequality has reduced over time.

On Sanitation

  • 65% households have access to improved, non-shared sanitation facilities in the general category while SC households are 28% behind them and ST are 40% behind them.
  • While more than 90% of households in the top 20% have access to improved sanitation, only 6% have access in the bottom 20 % — a difference of 87%.

On Immunization

  • The immunisation in ST households at 55% is still 6% below the national average, and Muslims have the lowest rate across all socio-religious groups at 55%.
  • The rate of immunisation of girls continues to be below that of the male child.
  • More than 50% of children still do not receive food supplements in the country.

On Antenatal Care and Mortality rate

  • Percentage of mothers who have received full antenatal care declined from 37% in 2005-06 to 21% in 2015-16.
  • The share of institutional deliveries in India has increased (doubled)from 40% in 2005-06 to almost 80% in 2015-16.
  • Overall improvement in Infant mortality rate (IMR) is not equal across social groups. Dalits, Adivasis and OBCs have higher IMR as compared to the general category.

Way Forwards – Recommendations in the report

  • The right to health should be enacted as a fundamental right that makes it obligatory for the government to ensure equal access to timely, acceptable, and affordable healthcare of appropriate quality and address the underlying determinants of health to close the gap in health outcomes between the rich and poor.
  • The free vaccine policy should adopt an inclusive model to ensure that everyone, irrespective of their gender, caste, religion or location i.e. people living in hard-to-reach areas, gets the vaccine without any delay.
  • Increase health spending to 2.5 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to ensure a more equitable health system in the country; ensure that union budgetary allocation in health for SCs and STs is proportionate to their population.
  • Regions with higher concentration of marginalised population should be identified and public health facilities should be established, equipped and made fully functional as per the Indian Public Health Standards (IPHS).
  • Widen the ambit of insurance schemes to include out-patient care. The major expenditures on health happen through out-patient costs as consultations, diagnostic tests, medicines, etc.
  • Institutionalize a centrally-sponsored scheme that earmarks funds for the provision of free essential drugs and diagnostics at all public health facilities.
  • Regulate the private health sector by ensuring that all state governments adopt and effectively implement Clinical Establishments Act or equivalent state legislation.
  • Extend the price capping policy introduced during the Covid-19 pandemic to include diagnostics and non-Covid treatment in order to prevent exorbitant charging by private hospitals and reduce catastrophic out-of-pocket health expenditure.
  • Augment and strengthen human resources and infrastructure in the healthcare system by regularising services of women frontline health workers.
  • Establishing contingency plans for scenarios such as the second wave of the pandemic.
  • Inter-sectoral coordination for public health should be boosted to address issues of water and sanitation, literacy, etc. that contribute to health conditions.

-Source: The Hindu


SC on ‘punishment’ for political parties facing contempt

Context:

Political parties facing contempt for defying a Supreme Court judgment to declare or publicise the criminal antecedents of their candidates before elections may run the risk of derecognition or a time-bound forfeiture of their election symbols.

Relevance:

GS-II: Polity and Governance (Constitutional Provisions, Judiciary)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Indian Constitution: Regarding Contempt of court
  2. What is not contempt of court?

Indian Constitution: Regarding Contempt of court

  • Article 129 and 215 of the Constitution of India empowers the Supreme Court and High Court respectively to punish people for their respective contempt.
  • The Contempt of Courts Act of 1971 defines the power of the High Court to punish contempts of its subordinate courts. The Supreme Court and High Courts have the power to punish for contempt of court, either with simple imprisonment for a term up to six months or with fine up to 2,000 or with both.
  • Power to punish for contempt of court under Articles 129 and 215 is not subject to Article 19(1)(a).
  • According to Lord Hardwick, there is a three-fold classification of Contempt:
    1. Scandalizing the court itself.
    2. Abusing parties who are concerned in the cause, in the presence of court.
    3. Prejudicing the public before the cause is heard.
  • However, in India contempt of court is of two types under The Contempt of Court Act, 1971
    1. Civil Contempt: Under the Contempt of Courts Act of 1971, civil contempt has been defined as wilful disobedience to any judgment, decree, direction, order, writ or other process of a court or wilful breach of an undertaking given to a court.
    2. Criminal Contempt: Under the Contempt of Courts Act of 1971, criminal contempt has been defined as the publication (whether by words, spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise) of any matter or the doing of any other act whatsoever which:
      • Scandalises or tends to scandalise, or lowers or tends to lower the authority of, any court, or
      • Prejudices, or interferes or tends to interfere with the due course of any judicial proceeding, or
      • Interferes or tends to interfere with, or obstructs or tends to obstruct, the administration of justice in any other manner.

What is not contempt of court?

  • Fair and accurate reporting of judicial proceedings will not amount to contempt of court.
  • Nor is any fair criticism on the merits of a judicial order after a case is heard and disposed of.

Is truth a defence against a contempt charge?

  • For many years, truth was seldom considered a defence against a charge of contempt.
  • There was an impression that the judiciary tended to hide any misconduct among its individual members in the name of protecting the image of the institution.
  • The Act was amended in 2006 to introduce truth as a valid defence, if it was in public interest and was invoked in a bona fide manner.

-Source: The Hindu

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