Welcome to our fortnightly newsletter, where our Editors put together handpicked stories from the world of tech law! You can find other issues here.
Israel spyware ‘Pegasus’ used to snoop on Indian activists, journalists, lawyers
In a startling revelation, Facebook owned messaging app WhatsApp revealed that a spyware known as ‘Pegasus’ has been used to target and surveil Indian activists and journalists. The revelation came to light after WhatsApp filed a lawsuit against the Israeli NSO Group, accusing it of using servers located in the US and elsewhere to send malware to approximately 1400 mobile phones and devices. On its part, the NSO group has consistently claimed that it sells its software only to government agencies, and that it is not used to target particular subjects. The Indian government sought a detailed reply from WhatsApp but has expressed dissatisfaction with the response received, with the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology stating that the reply has “certain gaps” which need to be further investigated.
- Sukanya Shantha, Indian Activists, Lawyers Were ‘Targeted’ Using Israeli Spyware Pegasus, The Wire (31 October 2019).
- Seema Chishti, WhatsApp confirms: Israeli spyware was used to snoop on Indian journalists, activists, The Indian Express (1 November 2019).
- Aditi Agrawal, Home Ministry gives no information to RTI asking if it bought Pegasus spyware, Medianama (1 November 2019).
- Shruti Dhapola, Explained: What is Israeli spyware Pegasus, which carried out surveillance via WhatsApp?, The Indian Express (2 November 2019).
- Akshita Saxena, Pegasus Surveillance: All You Want To Know About The Whatsapp Suit In US Against Israeli Spy Firm [Read Complaint], LiveLaw (12 November 2019).
RBI raises concerns over WhatsApp Pay
Adding to the WhatsApp’s woes in India, just after the Israeli spyware Pegasus hacking incident, The RBI has asked the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) not to permit WhatsApp to go ahead with the full rollout of its payment service WhatsApp Pay. The central bank has expressed concerns over WhatsApp’s non-compliance with data processing regulations, as current regulations allow for data processing outside India on the condition that it returns to servers located in the country without copies being left on foreign servers.
- Karan Choudhury & Neha Alawadhi, WhatsApp Pay clearance: RBI raises concerns data localisation concerns with NPCI, Business Standard (7 November 2019).
- Aditi Agarwal, ‘No payment services on WhatsApp without data localisation’, RBI to SC, Medianama (9 October 2019).
- Sujata Sangwan, WhatsApp can’t start payments business in India, YOURSTORY (9 November, 2019).
- Yatti Soni, WhatsApp Payments India Launch May Get Delayed Over Data Localisation Concerns, Inc42 (9 October 2019).
- Priyanka Pani, Bleak future for messaging app WhatsApp’s payment future in India, IBS Intelligence (9 November 2019).
Kenya passes new Data Protection Law
The Kenyan President, Uhuru Kenyatta recently approved a new data protection law in conformity with the standards set by the European Union. The new bill was legislated after it was found that existing data protection laws were not at par with the growing investments from foreign firms such as Safaricom and Amazon. There was growing concern that tech giants such as Facebook and Google would be able to collect and utilise data across the African subcontinent without any restrictions and consequently violate the privacy of citizens. The new law has specific restrictions on the manner in which personally identifiable data can be handled by the government, companies and individuals, and punishment for violations can to penalties of three million shillings or levying of prison sentences.
- Duncan Miriri, Kenya Passes Data Protection Law Crucial for Tech Investments, Reuters (8 November 2019).
- Yomi Kazeem, Kenya’s Stepping Up Its Citizens’ Digital Security with a New EU-Inspired Data Protection Law, Quartz Africa (12 November 2019).
- Kenn Abuya, The Data Protection Bill 2019 is Now Law. Here is What that Means for Kenyans, Techweez (8 November 2019).
- Kenya Adds New Data Regulations to Encourage Foreign Tech Entrants, Pymnts (10 November 2019).
Google gains access to healthcare data of millions through ‘Project Nightingale’
Google has been found to have gained access data to the healthcare data of millions through its partnership with healthcare firm Ascension. The venture, named ‘Project Nightingale’ allows Google to access health records, names and addresses without informing patients, in addition to other sensitive data such as lab results, diagnoses and records of hospitalisation. Neither doctors nor patients need to be told that Google an access the information, though the company has defended itself by stating that the deal amounts to “standard practice”. The firm has also stated that it does not link patient data with its own data repositories, however this has not stopped individuals and rights groups from raising privacy concerns.
- Trisha Jalan, Google’s Project Nightingale collects millions of Americans health records, Medianama (12 November 2019).
- Ed Pilkington, Google’s secret cache of medical data includes names and full details of millions – whistleblower, The Guardian (12 November 2019).
- James Vincent, The problem with Google’s health care ambitions is that no one knows where they end, The Verge (12 November 2019).
- Rop Copeland & Sarah E. needlemen, Google’s ‘Project Nightingale’ Triggers Federal Inquiry, Wall Street Journal (12 November 2019).
Law professor files first ever lawsuit against facial recognition in China
Law professor Guo Bing sued the Hangzhou Safari Park after it suddenly made facial recognition registration a mandatory requirement for visitor entrance. The park had previously used fingerprint recognition to allow entry, however it switched to facial recognition as part of the Chinese government’s aggressive rollout of the system meant to boost security and enhance consumer convenience. While it has been speculated that the lawsuit might be dismissed if pursued, it has stirred conversations among citizens over privacy and surveillance issues which it is hoped will result in reform of existing internet laws in the nation.
- Xue Yujie, Chinese Professor Files Landmark Suit Against Facial Recognition, Sixth Tone (4 November 2019).
- Michael Standaert, China wildlife park sued for forcing visitors to submit to facial recognition scan, The Guardian (4 November 2019).
- Kerry Allen, China facial recognition: Law professor sues wildlife park, BBC (8 November 2019).
- Rita Liao, China Roundup: facial recognition lawsuit and cashless payments for foreigners, TechCrunch (10 November 2019).
Twitter to ban all political advertising
Twitter has taken the decision to ban all political advertising, in a move that increases pressure on Facebook over its controversial stance to allow politicians to advertise false statements. The policy was announced via CEO Jack Dorsey’s account on Wednesday, and will apply to all ads relating to elections and associated political issues. However, the move may only to prove to have symbolic impact, as political ads on Twitter are just a fraction of those on Facebook in terms of reach and impact.
- Julie Wong, Twitter to ban all political advertising, raising pressure on Facebook, The Guardian (30 October 2019).
- Makena Kelly, Twitter will ban all political advertising starting in November, The Verge (30 October 2019).
- Amol Rajan, Twitter to ban all political advertising, BBC (31 October 2019).
- Alex Kantrowitz, Twitter Is Banning Political Ads. But It Will Allow Those That Don’t Mention Candidates Or Bills., BuzzFeed News (11 November 2019).