The temporary loss of the personal smartphone of India’s junior minister for home affairs – the ministry tasked with internal security –resulted in something of a security panic for him earlier this month as he visited the conflict-prone state of Jammu and Kashmir.
Asia Times has learned that Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju lost his phone for a number of hours on October 7 while attending a music concert in Srinagar, the summer capital of a state that has been under an insurgency for almost three decades.
The minister, it is reliably learnt, uses his smartphone to access social media as well as email. Other “sensitive information” stored on it includes contact details for key party colleagues from the ruling Bharatiya Janta Party, and for top security officials.
The Union Ministry of Home Affairs is primarily tasked with internal security issues and relations between the central and state governments, among other crucial functions. Rijiju was in Kashmir to to review the security situation. He was a special invitee to the concert, which was being given by Adnan Sami, a singer of Pakistani origin who has now been granted Indian citizenship.
Luckily for Rijiju, a party colleague happened to pick up his phone after he had left the venue.
There was no response from the Ministry of Home Affairs to requests for comment. However, official sources told Asia Times they believe Rijiju lost his phone when he got up to applaud Sami’s performance and it slipped out of his pocket.
“It had no lock enabled at all, so I just opened it at once and called back on a missed call, hoping to return the phone”
Dr Hina Bhat, a senior BJP leader, found the missing phone lying at the venue – and in fact initially mistook it as one of her own. She put the “sleek silvery Samsung phone” in her purse and left, but was later surprised to discover she had a third phone in her bag, in addition to her own two. “The third one had numerous missed calls from one particular number but I had been unable to hear any of the calls as it had been on silent mode,” she recalled.
Cracking into the phone proved startlingly easy, however. “It had no lock enabled at all, so I just opened it at once and called back on a missed call, hoping to return the phone,” Dr Hina told Asia Times.
Her call was greeted by Rijiju. As he recognized her voice, there was a sigh of relief among his camp and the security agencies. The minister personally collected the handset from Dr Hina’s residence.
A police official speaking on condition of strict anonymity said: “Though out of protocol we didn’t ask if the lost smartphone carried any sensitive information, it was quite obvious that such a gadget, used by the second most high profile man in the home ministry, would be loaded with sensitive information.”
Ashiq Hussain Dar, an academic currently pursuing a doctorate in Information Security, stressed the need for better security on personal smartphones due to the rising number of hacks. “Sensitive information stored on modern computing devices, mainly smartphones, is always a soft target,” he said.
For his part, an exuberant Rijiju later tweeted: “Traditionally, Kashmir is all about beautiful Art, Culture & Tourism. Adnan Sami concert at Srinagar was supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!”