Did The Government Of India Buy Pegasus Spyware?

Did government of India buy Pegasus?
Image: Reuters

The highly sophisticated and targeted Pegasus spyware has had activists, journalists, and dissenters on the radar. Amnesty, along with 80 journalists around the world, is exposing reports of its Pegasus misuse.

Pegasus spyware is distributed by Israel-based NSO Group, which licenses it to vetted governments. So any surveillance done using the spyware is done by a government only. Over 45 governments use Pegasus, the names of which are not revealed. However, a list of leaked Pegasus targets includes multiple Indian phone numbers. This makes one question, did the government of India buy Pegasus spyware?

Did India Buy Pegasus?

Since the story first broke, people have had a lot of questions about Pegasus. However, there are some questions that demand a straight answer. The current Indian IT Minister, Ashwini Vaishnaw, labeled the reports as a “highly sensational story.”

He emphasized that there’s no “illegal” tapping of phone calls or spying happening in India. However, he ducked the question of whether the government of India possesses and deploys Pegasus.

Former IT Minister RS Prasad also came to the ruling party’s defense. He invoked the sacred “national security” card to justify some forms of surveillance. The former minister neither confirmed nor denied India’s use of Israeli spyware. Mr. Prasad also said the linking to Pegasus use is an attempt to malign India’s reputation. He added that 45 countries are using the specific spyware.

Now, as the list of Pegasus targets is leaking, the names are piling as damning evidence that suggests a conclusion.

To that argument, we can add that there are around 50 dictatorships around the world. If the 45 using Pegasus are such governments, then India shouldn’t be on the same list.

The Washington Post also recently reported that Sudha Bhardwaj, one of the Bhima Koregaon activists, was also a victim of Pegasus. Not only her, but the report also says that two of Sudha’s lawyers and one of her close friend’s numbers were on the list too.

In 2018, Bhima Koregaon was the center of a tragedy that resulted in violence across Maharashtra. It took a further political color when 5 activists were arrested in relation to the violence. Recent reports again ask the same question from the government.

India And Pegasus: The Big Question

Haaretz has also published a report, accusing the Israeli government of spreading Pegasus. It says that a number of countries purchased Pegasus before or after a visit from the then Israeli Prime Minister, Netanyahu. The publication calls it spyware diplomacy.

Questions are also being raised against tech companies that failed to protect people against Pegasus. iPhones are among the majority of Pegasus-hit devices. While Apple issued a statement on the same, there are limited ways to detect Pegasus infection on a device.

In the past, the government of India has had multiple run-ins with social media companies. According to a Twitter report, India has made over 5,000 legal demands for content removal from Twitter between January and June 2020. Not just this, India was on internet shutdown for over 8,900 hours, affecting 10.3 million users and causing $2.7 billion in economic losses

The bottom line, the current Indian government has a history of internet shutdowns and takedown requests. Has this history escalated to spying? Did the Government of India buy Pegasus? Or is it just an attempt to drag India’s name into a scandal? What do you think about the whole matter? Let us know in the comments.

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