The report says, the database of those who are likely to be the target of Pegasus Spyware attack also contains a number of sitting Supreme Court judge.
Pegasus spyware, which was the subject of heated debate in the Rajya Sabha in 2019, is in the headlines once again. According to a report published in ‘The Wire’ the Indian government has spied on about 300 Indians between 2017 and 2019. These include journalists, lawyers, social workers, opposition leaders and businessmen. The report said that the phones of these 300 individuals were hacked through Pegasus spyware. However, the government has termed all the allegations as baseless.
Israeli spyware Pegasus has been in the headlines many times before. In 2019, WhatsApp also sued the company that made Pegasus.
Pegasus Used To Target Journalists, Politicians Across The Globe
Forbidden Stories-a Paris-based organization and Amnesty International have a list of about 50,000 phone numbers. They claim that these phone numbers are of individuals who have been targeted through Pegasus spyware.
These two institutes have shared this list with 16 media institutes around the world. After weeks of investigation, it has been revealed that the governments of different countries are spying on many people including journalists, opposition leaders, businessmen, social workers, lawyers and scientists.
— Forbidden Stories (@FbdnStories) July 18, 2021
The report says, a majority of the numbers identified in the list were geographically concentrated in 10 country clusters: India, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Morocco, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. These regions were identified by The Citizen Lab- a University of Toronto based digital surveillance research organization as focus region of the spyware attack in the past. This had led to WhatsApp filing a lawsuit against NSO in 2019.
Indians Targeted By Pegasus
According to a report by ‘The Wire’, the names of 300 Indians have been included in the list. The numbers of those in the database include over 40 journalists, three major opposition figures, one constitutional authority, two serving ministers in the Narendra Modi government, current and former heads and officials of security organisations and scores of businesspersons.
The report says, the database of those who are likely to be the target of Pegasus Spyware attack also contains a number of sitting Supreme Court judge. Whether he was using the number to operate WhatsApp or other encrypted messaging services couldn’t be verified.
Also Read: Whatsapp confirms: How Indian Journalist and Activists were spied on using Israeli spyware Pegasus?
The portal and its partners will be revealing more details over the course of next few days.
It is interesting to note here, that Pegasus maker Israeli firm has earlier claimed that its client include “vetted governments” and not private companies.
Govt Cites Old RTI Response
Responding to the report, The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology said that “India is a robust democracy that is committed to ensuring the right to privacy to all its citizens as a fundamental right” and that the “allegations regarding government surveillance on specific people has no concrete basis or truth associated with it whatsoever.”
Without specifically denying that Pegasus is being used by the government, the MEITY response said, “Each case of interception, monitoring, and decryption is approved by the competent authority… The procedure therefore ensures that any interception, monitoring or decryption of any information through any computer resource is done as per due process of law.”
When did Pegasus first come to light?
Pegasus first hit the headlines in 2016. Ahmed Mansoor, a human rights activist in the UAE, received several SMS from unknown numbers, in which several links were sent. When Ahmed got suspicious about these messages, he got the cyber experts to check these messages. The investigation revealed that if Ahmed had clicked on the link sent in the message, Pegasus would have been downloaded in his phone.
On October 2, 2018, Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi was assassinated. Pegasus’ name also came to the fore in the investigation of this murder. Investigating agencies had suspected that Jamal Khashogi had been spied on before his murder.
Pegasus was also in the headlines in 2019.
WhatsApp then said that WhatsApp information of about 1400 journalists and human rights activists was hacked from their phones through Pegasus. Congress leader Digvijaya Singh had raised the issue in the Rajya Sabha and had leveled several allegations against the government.