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    Former Hyderabad Deputy Police Commissioner Admits Involvement in Illegal Surveillance of Politicians, Activists and Others

    Former Deputy Commissioner of Police of Hyderabad City Task Force, P Radhakishan Rao, has confessed to his involvement in an ongoing illegal surveillance case involving top cops in the Telangana Special Intelligence Bureau (SIB), according to a report by The Indian Express on May 28, 2024, citing police sources.

    In a confession statement to the Hyderabad police, Rao admitted to tapping phones and conducting surveillance of politicians, officials, activists, businessmen, and others under the direction of then-SIB chief T Prabhakar Rao. These activities were carried out when the K. Chandrashekar Rao-led Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) was in power in Telangana.

    According to the report, any individual who was seen as a threat to the Chandrashekar Rao government was put under “extensive” electronic surveillance. Sources told Indian Express that information about political leaders who were to be surveilled was relayed to former SIB Deputy Superintendent of Police D Praneeth Rao.

    “He [Praneeth Rao] would allegedly profile them and lead an extensive operation to tap their phones so they can be kept under watch at all times,” the Indian Express report stated.

    Importantly, when the targeted individuals switched to encrypted platforms like WhatsApp or Signal, Prabhakar Rao allegedly directed the officials involved to track their communications using Internet Protocol Data Records.

    Former SIB official Dugyala Praneeth Rao was arrested in March on charges related to conducting illegal surveillance, criminal conspiracy, and destruction of evidence, among others. Read more about the complaint against Praneeth Rao here. While Prabhakar Rao is the main accused in the case, police have also arrested high-ranking officials including Additional Superintendents of Police N Bhujanga Rao and M Thirupatanna in the case, in addition to Praneeth Rao.

    Why does it matter?

    This case brings attention to the blatant misuse of the law by elected officials and law enforcement officials to conduct unauthorized surveillance for political interests using State systems otherwise intended for national security purposes.

    It also raises critical questions regarding the ability of top public officials to bypass due process of law, violate citizens’ right to privacy, and jeopardize people’s security for personal interests.

    In our report on how India’s police use metadata, MediaNama found that tracking an individual using metadata such as call detail records (CDR), location data, IP addresses, device details, and social media profiles is possible for top investigating officers of state police. However, such information can only be obtained for investigation purposes and is subject to processes for authorization, oversight, and confidentiality.

    The case also contributes to a rise in instances of illegal surveillance of Indian citizens, particularly political leaders, activists, journalists, and others. Several media organizations have extensively reported on government espionage carried out using the Israeli NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware, under the Pegasus Project. Over 300 Indians, including journalists, activists, politicians, bureaucrats, and businessmen, were reported to be on the list of targets for the NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware, as revealed by the New York Times in 2021. Read more about the developments in India regarding the Pegasus revelations here  and here.

    It’s important to note that the government’s Centralised Monitoring System (CMS) enables the monitoring of communications on mobile phones, landlines, and the internet in the country. On the other hand, NATGRID  will initially allow the government to collate, access, and analyze information, including real-time data from at least 21 key organizations, such as the Income Tax Department, National Crime Records Bureau, Civil Aviation Ministry, and more.

    As the government strengthens its capabilities for monitoring and tracking, the exploitation of broad powers vested in the hands of law enforcement agencies is concerning.

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    The post Former Hyderabad Deputy Police Commissioner Admits Involvement in Illegal Surveillance of Politicians, Activists and Others appeared first on MEDIANAMA.

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