Friday, May 20, 2022

Privacy Is A Myth: The Pegasus Sways

Anyone can make anyone worthy of intrusive surveillance

Privacy Is A Myth: The Pegasus Sways
The Pegasus controversy is jarring and yet another sign for us to establish the fact that there is no end to the high-end spy technology used exclusively for tasks. Representational Image

In Greek mythology, Pegasus is represented as a winged horse that sprang forth from the blood of Gorgon Medusa.  It was not just the interpretation that was ambiguous, but it was from birth to death, Pegasus is treated as an enigmatic creature. Neutral in its significance, often ascribed to divine inspiration and synonymous with ‘flying’ to heaven. Recently, the connotations of the Pegasus have been equally mysterious and up in the air.

The spy software, named Pegasus, has been used for surveillance on activists, politicians, and journalists. The company behind the said tool has categorically refuted the allegations and claims but it has left the individuals gaping at the fact whether privacy is a myth in the digital world.

The controversy is jarring and yet another sign for us to establish the fact that there is no end to the high-end spy technology used exclusively for tasks. The more advances on technological grounds, the more widespread and challenging will be the way we talk about privacy and security in the digital world.

It was in 2013 when former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden showcased the power of intelligence agencies to monitor global communications. Things have moved too quickly since then and many reputed companies on the likes of Google and Facebook have become reservoirs of data which is willingly submitted to them by users.

It was in 2018, Facebook told the Indian government, “Data of estimated 562,455 Indians may have been accessed by Cambridge Analytica through installations of the app developed by GSR and installed by Indians.” Mobile phones became a personal device that has been the touchpoint for all the information that you possess or can serve as an inlet to your life. It is your phone, mobile, and remotely accessible. There is no sense of conscious touch or you willingly opening out your world to someone quite keen on your livelihoods.

What your apps can do is harvest information from contacts, record calls, WhatsApp chats, microphones, video cameras, GPS data, and even your calendar. High-end espionage and surveillance powers are not just relegated to defense organizations making it part of their duty to safeguard the nations. These are in the hands of many individuals, groups, and organizations who can mold it to their advantage.

It is not a shocker when an agency that wanted to find out what you are up to can peek into your lives without any hassles. Finding what you like or who are your friends or who you would like to vote for is just a matter of few algorithms placed in the right place at the right time. Through a surveillance economy, companies can watch what we like on social media to better market us their product and services and thereby increase the customer base.

Anyone can make anyone worthy of intrusive surveillance. The fact of the matter is that in many of the countries there is limited or no liability and control on how the powerful data breach can be.  The wide-ranging concept of encryption has enhanced the drive for governments to peek into people's devices. The conversations seem encrypted, meaning you need to get to the device itself to see what was said. And devices also carry out a much richer reservoir of data. So, what can be done? Dr. Pavan Duggal, Author and Advocate, Supreme Court of India, and internationally renowned expert authority on Cyberlaw and Cybersecurity law says, “The Pegasus controversy is an event that has shaken all stakeholders who tend to take the internet and cybersecurity for granted.”

Addressing the need for countries like India to fine-tune the cybersecurity law, he mentions, “Time has come where not only appropriate cyber legal frameworks need to be amended and updated to limit the potential misuse of such surveillance technologies but also there exists a distinct need to strengthen the hands of the digital users in terms of effectively protecting their digital rights and liberties.”

Up until then, countries are hanging on a delicate thread, as John Keats would say, “They swayed about upon a rocking horse, And thought it Pegasus.”