The global collaborative project exposes the peril of surveillance as journalists, ministers, human rights activists fall prey to the malicious spying software Pegasus.
Appalled from the expose, French President Emmanuel Macron ordered an investigation yesterday into the matter where he along with the former prime minister and cabinet ministers were one of the many entries in the leaked database of Pegasus Project. Meanwhile the French Prime Minister, Jean Castex took an oath to not leave a single piece of information in the darkness.
Military-grade spyware, Pegasus, owned by Israel’s has been a part of many investigative reports since 2016 where the malicious software has been accused of collection and delivery of data to third parties without the owner’s consent.
According to the expose by 17 news organizations, Pegasus allegedly spied on politicians, judiciary, journalists, activists, and officials. For now, Israel’s NSO has decided to keep its mouth shut and not respond to any inquiries which it deems as nothing but an unnecessary planned and well-orchestrated media campaign.
NSO repeatedly dodged bullets of questionnaires thrown over them by denying that the leaked list is related to any targets of surveillance. However, as per Amnesty International and Forbidden stories, they found traces of Pegasus activation in the forensic tests.
While NSO called it a “vicious slanderous campaign” and assured the malicious software is used only for the control of “terrorism and crime”, Paris-based non-profit organization accessed over 50,000 numbers that were targeted.
Even after the company’s blunt denial, the leaked data instigated a senior inter-ministerial team under the Israeli government to look into the abuse of power and technology.
Owners of over 1,571 numbers got identified in 10 countries out of which as per the collaborative effort of Amnesty International and the Wire, 10 were Indians as well.
The leaked database was divided into two categories, potential targets, and targets. The ones which were not forensically analyzed by Amnesty but appeared in the leaked database were potential targets. But the ones with evidence of a successful hack were placed as targets.
After the analysis of thousands of numbers, over 300 Indian telephone numbers made it to the list. These were opposition ministers, journalists, activists, businessmen, rights activists, and many other important dignitaries.
It was Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International who accessed the information first hand and then shared it with the Wire, the Guardian, Washington Post, and 14 other media organizations.
India, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Saudi Arabia, and UAE remain the top contenders sharing the plethora of numbers with Pegasus spyware software traces.
India recently saw a battle between Twitter and the government regarding the security of information keeping national security in mind. Many social media organizations had to go through several procedures in order to comply with the New IT act 2021 so that the organizations cannot misuse the platform for inciting hatred or for any political or personal gain.
In fact, there are laws like The Indian Telegraph Act and IT Act which talks about lawful interceptions and to hack is an offense under the IT act.
Due to the leaked database which includes over 40 journalists, three opposition figures like former Congress President, Rahul Gandhi, Election strategist, Prashant Kishor, head of Association of Democratic Reforms, Jagdeep Chokhar, and two serving ministers in Modi’s government, the ruling party received heavy backlash.
Right after the revelation, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology denied the allegation of spying by saying that “it holds no concrete basis or truth associated with it.”
These documents have sparked a series of debates between the Indian opposition parties and the ruling government. Amnesty International and the Indian government have never been in the same boat. Earlier they clashed over allegations of India not being registered under the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act.
Pointing out the past quarrels and clashes, Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma asked the central government to ban Amnesty International from India on Tuesday. He said, “I strongly condemn this conspiracy and demand a ban on activities of such organizations which are hell-bent on defaming and harming our nation.”
“We all know the role Amnesty (plays) to encourage left-wing terrorism in India and defame India and PM Modi… it is an international conspiracy… Their main work is to create dissatisfaction among the sections of Indian society.”
As the government successfully denied the use of Pegasus software, it is yet to provide any statement on the purchase of Pegasus. The software designed to hack into smartphones – Android or iOS is solely sold to governments only. From the technique of “spearfishing” in 2016 to infiltrating devices by WhatsApp missed calls to the exploitation of bugs in iMessage, it is one of the most powerful spyware ever.
The use of such software should not only raise a cause of concern among the already targeted dignitaries but also worldwide which is happening right now. Its potential targets list included 10 Prime Ministers, three Presidents, and a King. France’s Emmanuel Macron, Iraq’s Barham Salih, and South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa were the potential Presidential targets.