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Right to Privacy : A Blessing in Disguise for National Security

Anurag Dwivedi Writes: The Supreme Court decision that privacy is a fundamental right can be viewed as a small setback when it comes to terror funding and infiltration but a big blessing in disguise for preventing cyber espionage.

Anurag Dwivedi Writes: The historic ruling of Indian Supreme Court that “Privacy” is a fundamental right is being seen as a setback to the government. If we analyse the right to privacy verdict from a national security perspective, it however seems to be net positive.

On one hand linking mobile phones, banking / trading accounts, PAN Numbers, passports, Voter IDs etc with biometric Aadhaar data would have unified these databases and given a boost to e-governance and accountability which is always a net positive for security. It would also have helped Police, Income Tax and Intelligence Agencies to carry out more coordinated and effective cyber surveillance to identify / track wrong doers. From the national security perspective this has a bearing on terror funding and identification/tracking of infiltrators who may indulge in terrorist activities or espionage. These plans may suffer a temporary setback due to the Supreme Court ruling.

However, the second aspect that links right to privacy and national security is that of cyber spying by our adversaries. Internet sites, particularly Social Media, Messengers and Search Engines siphon off terabytes of data to foreign shores and Edward Snowden revealed the extent to which American NSA was tapping this data to gain raw intelligence. The latest threat comes from smartphones and the government is already investigating if some devices / apps are collecting and transmitting private data to foreign intelligence agencies, particularly China. The legal basis for such exploitation of private data over Internet is “user consent” which is either implied (viz search engines) or explicitly obtained from the user before installing/registering. ICT firms however exploit loopholes and it is only in few regions like European Union that they have been harshly penalised by courts and forced to implement region specific privacy policies. Had our Supreme Court ruled that privacy was not a fundamental right, it would have left the flank wide open for a host of cyber espionage activities disguised as Internet based services.

From a national security perspective the Supreme Court decision is therefore a small setback when it comes to tracking terror funding and infiltration, but a big blessing in disguise towards preventing cyber espionage. The government must operationalize this advantage by suitably modifying the IT Act.

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