In a move to prevent leakage of sensitive information on important policy matters and decisions, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has issued a directive to his ministers not to carry smartphones and other mobile phones to Cabinet meetings. The government also fears the possibility of the devices being hacked.
It may be noted that mobile phones are already banned at Cabinet meetings in Britain.
This is the first time the Indian government has decided to take such a step. The government recently issued a circular (that is in this newspaper’s possession) stating: “It has been decided that smart-phones/mobile phones henceforth will not be permitted inside meeting venues of Cabinet/Cabinet committees.”
The Cabinet Secretariat issued the circular to the private secretaries of all ministers, directing them to brief their ministers “appropriately” that smartphones and mobile phones will not be permitted at meetings. The directive comes at a time when there are heightened threats of data theft in the aftermath of the surgical strikes by the Army across the LoC on terror launchpads located there.
Highly-placed sources said the decision by the Prime Minister’s Office appears to have been driven by recent security inputs indicating smartphones could be used for recording, and prone to hacking by external agencies. The intelligence and security agencies also warned that Pakistani or Chinese hackers could target top government ministers and officials.
A senior government official told this newspaper that in the recent past there were reported attempts by Pakistani and Chinese hackers to invade sensitive government networks. There is already a system in place under which officials (specially those posted in sensitive departments) aren’t allowed to connect their phones to official computer systems even for charging. Several sensitive offices like South Block, that houses the PMO and the external affairs and defence ministries, are no-mobile phone zones.
A recent report in London’s Daily Telegraph said that “politicians in the UK have been banned from wearing the Apple Watch to Cabinet meetings over fears that the device could be hacked… The UK government was worried the Apple Watch microphone could be used to listen in on high-level policy discussions, specially by Russian spies”.
At a time when hacking has become a major instrument for snooping by adversaries, government officials felt it was “necessary to have important conversations (to) decide the national agenda without any electronic devices in the room”.