“There is no proposal for banning any group named ‘NSO group’,” read the response by Minister of State for Electronics and Information Technology Rajeev Chandrasekhar. He was responding to a question by Rajya Sabha MPs Vishambar Prasad Nishad and Sukhram Singh Yadav in the winter session of the Parliament.
Chandrasekhar added that the government did not have any information when asked about whether the United States had blacklisted NSO Group and Candiru, for providing Pegasus spyware. NSO Group is the Israeli cyber-espionage firm behind the controversial Pegasus spyware.
The response is a signal that the Indian government may not necessarily take action against NSO Group in the future. It also raises questions about the government’s intentions in holding the company accountable unless compelled by the Supreme Court of India.
Yes, the US blacklisted NSO Group
“NSO Group and Candiru (Israel) were added to the Entity List based on evidence that these entities developed and supplied spyware to foreign governments that used these tools to maliciously target government officials, journalists, businesspeople, activists, academics, and embassy workers,” according to a press release by the US Department of Commerce.
The Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) added four foreign companies in total to the Entity List for ”engaging in activities that are contrary to the national security or foreign policy interests of the United States”. The sanctions went into effect on November 4.
The ruling ensures that BIS will impose a license requirement that applies to all items under EAR (Export Administration Regulations). The commerce department added that there are no license exceptions for entities under the List. Moreover, these entities will be subject to a presumption of denial by the BIS for license review.
Why is the NSO Group under scrutiny?
The revelations by the Pegasus Project detailed how nearly 50,000 people across the world were reportedly targeted by Pegasus which gained extensive access to smartphones through zero-click exploits. Among the 50,000, 300 Indian citizens were potentially surveilled including opposition leader Rahul Gandhi, poll strategist Prashant Kishor, Union Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw, among several other political leaders, journalists, human rights activists, businessmen, military officials, and intelligence agency officials.
Internationally, the long list of possible Pegasus victims featured the names of French President Emmanuel Macron, European Council President Charles Michel, and Pakistan PM Imran Khan to name a few.
In India, the Supreme Court has instituted an expert committee to look into allegations of the Indian government’s use of the Pegasus spyware. The next hearing on the matter is scheduled to be in January 2022.
- Summary: Apple’s lawsuit against NSO Group for surveilling, targeting its users with Pegasus spyware
- Israel cuts down list of countries allowed to import cyber tech products in the wake of Pegasus
- Supreme Court appoints committee to investigate Pegasus in India; “State does not get a free pass”
- New US rules are supposed to curb Pegasus-like spyware from getting in the wrong hands
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