Has India been blocked from using the Pegasus Spyware?

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By Sushil Silvano, Our Special Correspondent. Edited By Adam Rizvi, TIO: India was one of the countries which allegedly used Pegasus to hack phones of journalists, politicians, bureaucrats, constitutional officers, and even some Union ministers.

Israeli cyber-security firm NSO Group, at the center of a global controversy over misuse of its Pegasus spyware to hack phones of journalists and politicians, has temporarily blocked several government clients from using its technology, according to a media report.

An unidentified employee of NSO told America’s National Public Radio (NPR) on July 29 that the ” government clients” were blocked as the company investigates the possible misuse of its technology. The employee didn’t identify the governments or give more details.

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The move came a day after Israeli authorities conducted an inspection of NSO Group’s office followings reports by an international consortium of journalists about the misuse of the Pegasus spyware around the world.

“There is an investigation into some clients. Some of those clients have been temporarily suspended,” said the employee, who spoke to NPR on condition of anonymity because company policy states NSO will no longer respond to media inquiries on the issue.

The employee did not name or quantify the government agencies or their countries that NSO suspended from using its spyware, saying Israeli defense regulations prohibit the firm from identifying its clients.

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NSO’s internal investigation checked some phone numbers of people that the firm’s clients reportedly marked as potential targets. “Almost everything we checked, we found no connection to Pegasus,” the employee said, declining to elaborate on potential misuse that Israeli cyber-security firm may have uncovered.

The Israeli defense ministry’s official Twitter account tweeted about the inspection of NSO’s office at Herzliya near Tel Aviv, saying representatives from several bodies went to the firm to examine the allegations made against the company.

Israeli news website Calcalist, which first reported the inspection, described it as a “raid”. NSO Group, which has denied allegations of unauthorized surveillance of mobile phones using its spyware, confirmed the inspection in a statement and said it is “working in full transparency with the Israeli authorities”.

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NSO itself won’t say anything about its clients, citing confidentiality agreements. But it has been well documented as suspected Pegasus infections have been found in 45 locations: Brazil, Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh,  Canada, Egypt, France, Greece, India, Iraq, Israel, Ivory Coast, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lebanon, Libya, Mexico, Morocco, the Netherlands, Oman, Pakistan, the Palestinian territories, Poland, Qatar, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, Switzerland, Tajikistan, Thailand, Togo, Tunisia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Uganda, the United Kingdom, the United States, Uzbekistan, Yemen, and Zambia.

However, the presence of infected phones does not necessarily mean a country’s government is a client.

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It is worth noting that NSO Group has confirmed the existence of Pegasus. However, the Israeli company has also said that it sells the tools only to governments and that it is not responsible for its misuse.

Military-grade malware from the Israel-based NSO Group is reportedly being used to spy on journalists, human rights activists, and political dissidents.

According to an investigation undertaken by a global media consortium based on leaked targeting data, the list includes at least 300 verified mobile phone numbers from India. These belong to two serving ministers, over 40 journalists, three opposition leaders, and one sitting judge, besides scores of business persons and activists.

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BJP parliamentarian Dr.Subramanium Swamy has warned: “It will be sensible if the Home Minister tells Parliament that Modi Government has nor had any involvement with the Israeli company which tapped and taped our telephones… Otherwise, like Watergate truth will trickle out and hurt BJP by the halal route.”

The government, however, dismissed allegations of any kind of surveillance on its part on specific people, saying it “has no concrete basis or truth associated with it whatsoever”. Asserting that “India is a robust democracy that is committed to ensuring the right to privacy to all its citizens as a fundamental right”, the government dismisses the media report as an attempt to playing “the role of an investigator, prosecutor as well as jury”.

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Compiled and Curated By Humra Kidwai

 

Sushil Silvano

Mr. Sushil Silvano, our special correspondent is a celebrated veteran Journalist and Author and is currently based in Mumbai, India. He is the National Secretary of the Indian Journalists Union, an affiliate of the "International Federation of Journalists". He strongly believes in developing awareness through the power of Media and has chaired the Mumbai Chapter of Public Relations Council of India (PRCI) and is currently the Chairman of the Lucknow Chapter of PRCI.

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