Snoopgate: Indian Journalists, Activists And Ministers Allegedly Spied On With Pegasus’ Spyware

Snoopgate: Indian Journalists, Activists And Ministers Allegedly Spied On With Pegasus' Spyware
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The phone data of 50,000 numbers, including hundreds of politicians, ministers, lawyers, businessmen, judges, social workers, journalists and many other prominent public figures all over the world, have reportedly been leaked by Israel-made spyware Pegasus. India’s the Wire and the US-based publication, the Washington Post, have claimed in their reports that at least 40 Indians, including journalists, politicians, ministers, sitting Supreme Court judges and corporates, are a part of this list. The report claimed that more than 180 journalists’ phones were hacked worldwide by the Pegasus spyware.

Hours before the report came out late night on Sunday, BJP leader Subramanian Swamy, who has been vocal in critiquing the Modi government, had tweeted about the revelation of Pegasus’ attack on phones. He had said in his tweet that the Washington Post and UK’s the Guardian are publishing a report exposing the hiring of an Israeli firm Pegasus, for tapping phones of Modi’s cabinet ministers, RSS leaders, SC judges and journalists. 

What Do Reports Say?

The Guardian claims in its report that hundreds of phone numbers, including those of hundreds of journalists and other famous people have been tapped across the world. These include many people from India. The report claimed that more than 1,500 phone numbers, including 300 verified Indian numbers in 10 countries – India, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Morocco, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia and the UAE – were under surveillance. 

According to reports, at least 38 Indian journalists, majorly critics of PM Narendra Modi, may have been spied on using the Pegasus spyware. Apart from the journalists, three serving cabinet ministers of the Modi government, three opposition leaders, a constitutional authority, scientists and some government officials were included in the list.

The Wire claims that its founding editors and senior journalists Siddharth Varadarajan and M.K. Venu were named on the list. Apart from them, their freelance journalists Rohini Singh and Swati Chaturvedi, Hindustan Times executive editor Shishir Gupta, editor and former bureau chief Prashant Jha, defence correspondent Rahul Singh, Indian Express deputy editor Muzamil Jaleel, former Indian Express journalist Sushant Singh, the Hindu’s Vijaita Singh, former editor of EPW magazine and critic of PM Modi Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, and many more were on the leaked data list.

The Guardian said in its reports that hundreds of the other journalists from the Wall Street Journal, CNN, the New York Times, Al Jazeera, France 24, Radio Free Europe, Mediapart, El País, Associated Press, Le Monde, Bloomberg, Agence France-Presse, the Economist, Reuters and Voice of Americas (VoA) were also on the target list. 

Who Exposed Pegasus?

The report of Pegasus’ malicious attack on thousands of public figures and journalists’ phones was exposed by the Paris-based Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International. The investigation report called ‘The Pegasus Project’, was carried out in collaboration with 80 journalists across 16 media organisations, including French daily newspaper Le Monde, the Washington Post, the Guardian, India’s Frontline and the Wire.

Congress Attacks Modi Government

The Pegasus Report was published a day before the monsoon session of the parliament that began earlier today, leading Congress to attack the PM Modi on this issue. Soon after the report came out, the former Congress president Rahul Gandhi took a jibe at the Modi government on Twitter saying, “We know what he’s been reading- everything on your phone.”

Senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor has called for an independent investigation regarding the use of the Israeli software.

AICC general secretary Priyanka Gandhi wrote on Twitter: “If true, the Modi government seems to have launched a grave and sinister attack on the Right to Privacy of people – constitutionally guaranteed to Indian citizens as a Fundamental Right.”

In a detailed reply to media organisations, the NSO Group stated, “NSO Group firmly denies false claims made in your report, many of which are uncorroborated theories that raise serious doubts about the reliability of your sources, as well as the basis of your story.”

The Centre has refuted all allegations regarding government surveillance.


Read more: Parliament Monsoon Session 2021: Centre Proposes 23 Bills For Lok Sabha Consideration


What Is Pegasus Spyware?

Israel’s cybersecurity company NSO developed the Pegasus Spyware, a malicious software that can easily hack mobile phones. Israel claimed that it was designed to tackle terrorism and sold to many countries. However, they never revealed its clients’ names.

According to experts, once the software manages to enter your phone, it can easily access your mobile numbers, chats, emails and photos. The software can also turn on your mobile phone’s camera to capture your activities.

Many governments including Bangladesh, Mexico and Saudi Arabia have purchased Pegasus from Israel’s NSO. According to reports, Saudi Arabia purchased Pegasus in 2017 to keep an eye on activists and journalists’ gadgets and phones, especially those standing against the kingdom and the royal family.

The Indian government, however, has continued to deny purchasing Pegasus spyware from Israel, although, a report has claimed that Israel-made offensive hacking technology is being used in India too. 

In 2018, Toronto-based Citizen Lab, a digital surveillance research organisation had claimed in its reports that Pegasus’ operations can be found in at least 45 countries. The list of countries mentions Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Brazil, Canada, Cote d’Ivoire, Egypt, France, Greece, India, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lebanon, Libya, Mexico, Morocco, Netherlands, Oman, Pakistan, Palestine, Poland, Qatar, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, Switzerland, Tajikistan, Thailand, Togo, Tunisia, Turkey, the UAE, Uganda, the United Kingdom, the US, Uzbekistan, Yemen, and Zambia.

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