Whatever political party in govt, only change in hardware, software same: Justice Chelameswar on surveillance

Justice Chelameswar said the State has reasons to keep surveillance depending upon the situation, but there should be “an amount of transparency in the process”. Photo: Shaheen Abdulla/Maktoob

Former Supreme Court judge J Chelameswar on Friday observed that all political parties in power “never bothered” to make the CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) “stable or statutory or rational”.

“The question is, can we as a society put the democratic pressure on the lawmakers of this country, the parliament, the legislature to rationalise these practices and these institutions,” Chelameswar asked while delivering the keynote address at the panel discussion on ‘Re-thinking Surveillance: How Much is too Much?’

He recalled that during the Aadhar case, a “vehement” submission was made by the then-attorney general saying there is no fundamental right to privacy in the Indian constitution. But later when the Apex court upheld that the right to privacy was under fundamental rights, every party claimed that they are vindicated.

At the function organised by NGO Common Cause and the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), a report titled ‘Status of Policing in India Report 2023: Surveillance and the Question of Privacy’ was also released.

The findings of the report indicate a high level of public support for certain forms of government surveillance but also reveal a lack of public awareness regarding critical issues such as the Pegasus scandal and the Puttaswamy case.

“Every right comes with a corresponding obligation which imposes limitations on the rights. So the right of privacy question is whether the state is collecting [data], for whatever reasons and distributions, is there transparency in the process? Is the data being collected in a manner which can be examined and assessed if the data is meant for the benefit of the people? Ultimately, any act of the state is required to be meant for the benefit of the people of the country.”

“Assessment is only possible if only we have a proper system and law which regulates the keeping of the surveillance and collection of data regarding individuals by the state,” Chelameswar stressed.

As a solution, he suggested exerting democratic pressure on the lawmakers for a more rational legal system to regulate such activities in this country.