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A Guide to the NSO Group’s Pegasus Spyware in India

Over 300 Indian users including journalists, activists, and politicians have been targeted between 2017 and 2019 by NSO’s Pegasus spyware that is only sold to nation states, The Wire and a consortium of other media bodies known as Forbidden Stories reported on Sunday. However, the issue can be traced back to a 2019 report by the Financial Times which had revealed that attackers had exploited a vulnerability in WhatsApp’s code to inject malicious code on the devices of users. This malware that had been developed by a secretive Israeli company called NSO Group came to be known as Pegasus.

In terms of capability, Pegasus makes a privacy campaigner’s worst nightmares come true as it can not only intercept communications to and from a device (before encryption) but also trigger a phone’s camera and microphone to record activity.

While India has long been suspected of being a Pegasus buyer, the scale and nature of surveillance it has embarked upon, and the targets it seems to have picked, don’t appear to indicate national security concerns or organised crime dealings — for which surveillance is usually sanctioned.

Key reading material on NSO Group’s Pegasus

  • All you need to know about NSO Group and its Pegasus spyware [Read here]
  • Interview: How Amnesty investigated the spying campaign against Bhima Koregaon activists [Read here]

Pegasus Project Issue 2019

Legal Challenges

  • WhatsApp sues NSO Group, Israeli spyware company tries to get WhatsApp lawsuit dismissed [Read here] [View MediaNama’s discussion]
  • Amnesty sues Israeli Defence Ministry over Pegasus in May 2019, Israeli Court rejects lawsuit [Read here & here]

The fallout in India

  • Victims targeted by Pegasus write two open letters demanding answers from the government [Read here & here]
  • KN Govindacharya files case in SC accusing WhatsApp of perjury because of Pegasus, SC dismisses petition [Read here & here]

Responses from Government

  • Home Ministry gives no information to RTI asking if it bought Pegasus Spyware [Read here]
  • RS Prasad gives details of critical communications between MeitY and WhatsApp in Parliament [Read here & here]
  • ‘Government has no access to WhatsApp data, voice messages,’ MeitY says in Lok Sabha [Read here]

Pegasus Project Issue 2021

  • Pegasus Spyware: All the latest facts on who was targeted, the modus operandi, and more [Read here]

Who was targeted?

  • Karnataka politicians, aides chosen for Pegasus surveillance amid political turmoil in 2019: Report [Read here]
  • World leaders targeted by NSO’s Pegasus, ambassadors and diplomats in India on the radar too [Read here]

Reactions: Who said what

  • Members Of Parliament react to Pegasus Spyware exposé, Rahul Gandhi says revelations amount to treason [Read here & here]
  • ‘Illegal and deplorable’: How Pegasus Spyware targets in India are reacting [Read here]
  • Editors Guild of India demands probe over Pegasus reports while Reporters Without Borders mulls filing lawsuits against NSO [Read here & here]

Indian Government and NSO respond to allegations

  • In Lok Sabha address, IT Minister doesn’t deny using Pegasus; behind it lies a history of unclear statements [Read here & here]
  • Everything that the NSO Group has said so far on the allegations against Pegasus [Read here]

 

More on Pegasus and Surveillance

  • Amazon Web Services shuts down infrastructure linked to Pegasus vendor NSO Group [Read here]
  • A decade-old bill had proposed to regulate surveillance by Govt agencies and this is what it said [Read here]

Views on surveillance reform and future steps

  • The Pegasus exposé is a wake-up call for how a surveillance culture reduces public trust [read]
  • Official response to Pegasus must be clearer. Plus, the system of authorising surveillance is flawed [read]
  • Surveillance reform is the need of the hour [read]
  • Pegasus Spyware: How do we rein in State surveillance? Here’s what experts had to say [Read here]
  • Intelligence gathering needs to be professionalised, parliamentary oversight introduced, and liberties and laws protected [read]
  • Edward Snowden calls for spyware trade ban amid Pegasus revelations [Read here]
  • Understanding the efficacy of the proposed Personal Data Protection Bill is crucial in regards to entrenched networked surveillance [Read here]

We will keep updating this article with more resources and developments.

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.

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