Ranjona Banerji: Worse than Big Brother

14 Sep,2021

Ranjona BanerjiBy Ranjona Banerji

 

The investigation into Pegasus spyware being used to target journalists, activists, corporates, politicians in countries around the world broke two months ago. This spyware is sold to governments by the Israeli company NSO to track terrorists.

 

After all the anger and outrage around the world and various nations instituting inquiries into this illegal snooping, the Government of India huffed and hawed and deflected and discombobulated. The Supreme Court of India then asked the Government of India to explain why it was using military spyware to snoop on ordinary citizens.

 

Before we go further, as a reminder, here’s what well-known journalist Swati Chaturvedi told Time  magazine about her name being on the list of targets: “For me, the most worrying thing was my sources and my family. For three days, I was literally getting chills. Having a thick skin and doing investigative reporting is one thing. But this is worse than Big Brother. It sends a message of total intimidation: Don’t report. Don’t tell the truth. Because we are watching you, and we can be very aggressive and very nasty to you.”

https://time.com/6081433/pegasus-spyware-monitored-journalists-activists/

 

The Wire.in was part of the consortium of media houses which broke the story. Here it lists some of those targeted by the Government of India:

https://thewire.in/rights/project-pegasus-list-of-names-uncovered-spyware-surveillance

 

Unfortunately, as we know, the relationship between the government and democracy and within the media itself is very badly fractured. With large chunks of the mainstream media acting as government and/or BJP mouthpieces, to look for support and solidarity is difficult.

 

The extent of the arrogance of the Government and its supreme confidence that it will get away with this – because it has gotten away with so much already – is evident in the responses of the Solicitor General Tushar Mehta to the Supreme Court. Mehta raised the bogey of “national security” which excuses everything to explain why the Government would not file an affidavit. He told the Supreme Court three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of India NV Ramana: “We cannot let terrorists know what software is being used”.

 

Ramana said in response: ““No, Mr Mehta, last time we wanted an affidavit and that is why we granted you time and now you are saying this… we are going back again and again… we reiterate… we don’t want to know about national security. The issue is… we have citizens saying their phones were tapped”

 

The Chief Justice’s response is heartening.

https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/pegasus-row-wont-file-detailed-affidavit-government-tells-supreme-court-cites-national-security-2538979

 

However, what we have before us is the clear intent of the Government of India. When you connect Mehta’s response to the Supreme Court to the income tax “surveys” carried out on Newslaundry.com and Newsclick.in this week, where income tax officials took away the phones of editors, the pattern is clearly visible.

 

Intimidation, harassment and stonewalling will be used to prevent justice and to stop the media from doing its primary job: showing truth to power. Because there is no support from the supplicant media when journalists are harassed, the government and its tactics are enabled and emboldened. That brainwashed supporters feel that questioning the government is akin to the medieval notion of “treason” is one thing. That more than half the Indian media also believes that tells us how threatened our democracy really is. And why we continue to fail when it comes to global press freedom rankings.

 

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She writes on MxMIndia on Tuesdays and Fridays. Her views here are personal

 

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