A report published by news organisations across the world on Sunday, 18 July, revealed that Israel-made spyware Pegasus was believed to have been used to snoop on at least 300 Indian phone numbers, including those of several journalists, politicians, government officials and rights activists.
Pegasus, a product of Israeli cyber weapons company NSO Group, was earlier in the news in late 2019, when it was found that the spyware had been used to hack into phones of roughly 1,400 users around the world, including 121 Indians.
The most recent revelation involving 50,000 phone numbers of potential surveillance targets were discovered by Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International (reported first by the Washington Post and The Guardian).
How to detect Pegasus Spyware?
The spyware has the ability to access all of the data on the individual’s phone — see what content they download, read their texts despite the messages and platforms being encrypted.
And in case you were wondering if you’re one of the many who are being tracked by their government, Amnesty International has released a tool dubbed the Mobile Verification Toolkit or MVT (highlighted by TechCrunch) that helps you detect just that.
Pegasus Spyware vs Right to Privacy Law in India
While the Supreme Court in Puttaswamy has held that Indians have a fundamental right to privacy, we do not know how private our lives are from the Government of India
The existing state of surveillance in India is alarming. Not only do the prevalent and proposed legal regimes fail to safeguard our right to privacy, but we do not even know the extent of surveillance conducted by the Government of India.
We usually find out how secure (or unsecure) our lives are, not from the government. but from organizations and individuals committed to increasing transparency around these issues. This time around, an international collaborative investigation titled “Pegasus Project”, has accessed a leaked database of phone numbers, supposedly provided by government clients of an Israeli spyware firm called NSO.
The investigation revealed that these numbers may have been targeted using Pegasus, a military grade spyware. The Wire has reported that the database contains “over 300 verified Indian mobile telephone numbers, including those used by ministers, opposition leaders, journalists, the legal community, businessmen, government officials, scientists, rights activists and others”. Shockingly, it is also reported that “among the numbers in the Pegasus Project database is one that was registered in the name of a sitting Supreme Court judge.”