SURVEILLANCE AND RIGHT TO PRIVACY- by Shubhangi Singh @lexcliq


  • Is Surveillance Legal in India
  • Right to privacy
  • Laws on Surveillance in other nations
  • Conclusion

The NSO Group which has manufactured the Pegasus Spyware used for surveillance is only sold to “Vetted Government”, that too with the permission of Defence Ministry of Israel. There is high probability that the Union Government of India has also purchased it. Because when the opposition questioned the IT minister in the Parliament, he either refused nor accepted that the government has purchased the tool. Even, he said that “only lawful interception of electronic communication is being made by the Government”. In 2014, in a response to an RTI to SLFC, Home Ministry disclosed that on an average 7500-9000 telephone interception orders are given each month and and since then it can be safely assumed that this number must have risen.


The Surveillance is legal in India. The legal validity of it comes from the Telegraph Act,1885 and Information Technology Act, 2000. The Telegraph Act empowers the state to intercept the calls whereas the IT Act allows the interception of Data. Only the Government is allowed to put someone on the surveillance and not any private individual. 

S 43 and S 66 of IT Act, make stealing of data and hacking of a civil and a criminal offence. S 66B of the Act talks about the imprisionment of three years, for dishonestly receiving stolen computer resources or communication. 


Supreme Court in Justice K.S.Puttaswamy (Retd.) and Anr. V Union of India, declare that Right toPrivacy is a Fundamental Right under Article 14, 19, and 21 of the Indian Constitution. This right has the power to deter the state from conducting large scale surveillance on the citizens of the nation. But, there is also a probability that Right to Privacy may become a limited right especially when it comes surveillance protecting the national security, sovereignty and integrity of the country, defence of the nation, or for maintaining friendly relations with foreign states.

In 2017, the Union Government created a committee to suggest laws on Data Protection which was headed by the retired Justice B.N.Krishna. 

The committee submitted the final draft on data protection bill in 2018, which has not been enacted till now. According to Experts, even the draft of data protection bill does not have sufficient provisions to regulate the surveillance and the probable misuse of the tools to serve the individual interest and aims.


U.S.A– The Amendment protect the citizens from the unreasonable search and seizures. In order to engage the tools of surveillance, government has to seek the permission of the Court by establishing valid and probable cause to justify their search. It has to also provide the time period for which they want to engage the tools against an individual.  But after the incident of 9/11, USA  PATRIOT Act was passed, which when revealed created tensions in the country. For a time being, the law lapsed until the Congress re-authorised it again. At present, USA still faces tensions for this matter, as many are of opinion that it violate the constitution of USA.

U.K– In a landmark judgment, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in May 2021 ruled that, the UK government’s bulk interception of communications powers  “did not contain sufficient ‘end-to-end’ safeguards to provide adequate and effective guarantees against arbitrariness and the risk of abuse”, thus violating the rights to privacy and freedom of expression. The Court said that states cannot delegate the power to authorize surveillance to the executive branch of government. There are also insufficient oversight to provide adequate guarantees against abuse.

FRANCE – it has decided to bring a new act that would empower the state to do surveillance of the potential terrorists , and people who have come out of the prison. The Bill has common the backdrop of series of attacks by the radicalised people living in France, thereby creating insecurity for the public.

In 2019, a UK based Security Firm did a survey of around 47 countries to see if the governments successfully protects the Privacy of its citizens or they are creating a surveillance states. They found that only five countries were successfully protecting the privacy of their citizens. China and Russia were the two top offenders whereas as India secured the third position. May be because it did not have laws that protects the data and privacy of its citizens.


Surveillance is important for any State to maintain peace and security, sovereignty and Integrity of the nation. In todays tech driven world, terrorists, separatist, criminals are using all the means to remain out of radar of the government authorities. If government would stop doing the surveillance, it can be really dangerous for countries to protect their citizens. But, at the same time, government has to take care of the privacy of the citizens. Basically, the Governments have to maintain a balance between the Surveillance and the Privacy. The tools of Surveillance has to be checked so that government authorities do not misuse it.


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