• Parushni Jathar

Pegasus Controversy

Death of Democracies

The right to privacy is recognised as a fundamental human right under Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Act, 1948, which states as follows: "No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his/her privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attack upon his/her honour and reputation." Every human, whether it is an ordinary citizen, netizen or a high-class lawyer, journalist, everyone has the right to privacy as much as it is to any authoritarian regime. These recent events that were brought to light are highly unacceptable for the fundamental human rights being ridiculed in such a manner.

Pegasus is one of the most skilled cyber-surveillance which when infiltrated in your iPhones or Android devices and can give access to the operator of your call-logs, texts, WhatsApp chats, GPS data, contact lists, and more. Hence to summarise, your entire mobile is virtually present in the attacker's hands.

One of its petrifying features is that when two or more Pegasus infiltrated devices come within the same proximity, they automatically begin to record the conversation. If the user switches those devices, then the current GPS location will be delivered to the attacker.

The Wired, along with 16 other international media outlets, have uncovered the widespread abuse of this high-grade surveillance. To this, NSO Group, which created Pegasus, insists that they only deal with "vetted governments" who are using it against criminals and terrorists. The leak contains a list of 50,000 targets, out of which 37 have been confirmed to have the Pegasus infiltration, according to the forensic reports reported by the Washington Post. A Paris-based nonprofit media organisation, Amnesty International, initially had access to the leaked list and shared that with media partners as part of the Pegasus project, a reporting consortium.

To this, NSO responded by denying every allegation and claiming that Amnesty made wrong assumptions and uncorroborated theories.

Amnesty International even filed a criminal case in Israel's court, which failed to stand.

When the investigating media outlets approached the respective countries with the allegations, their forefront spokesperson denied all the allegations of abusing the prowess of cyber-surveillance.

Media outlets who have been working on this leak came up with a list of 1000 alleged victims from over 50 countries. In their discovery, there were a cluster of suspected victims in 10 countries, Kazakhstan, Morocco, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, India, Bahrain, Hungary, the United States of Emirates and Azerbaijan. This included a Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi and his subordinates, including his fiancé. Jamal Khashoggi was brutally murdered while visiting the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. The spyware was found in his fiancée's phone days after the murder.

Similarly, a Mexican Journalist, Cecilio Pineda Birt, appeared twice on the list months before his murder. Devastatingly, his phone was disappeared from the crime scene, to which NSO claimed that the possibility of the spyware in his cellphone doesn't confirm the ties with his murder.

More than 40 journalists, three opposition leaders, and two ministers in the ruling party's government have been reported to be on the list in India. This includes one of the prominent leaders of the opposition party. But since he changed his device, Amnesty couldn't do a forensic investigation to find traces.

The Indian government as well has denied the allegations.

Although during the recent events, a beat journalist, Rupesh Kumar Singh of Jharkhand, had been arrested by Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and Bihar police and was later bailed out of jail after 6months due to no charge sheet being produced. This journalist claimed to be framed as a Naxalite by the state police. This journalist's three phone numbers were on the list. During an interview with the 'News Laundry', he stated that the police admitted to tapping his devices during his interrogation. To some level, there is a possibility of corroboration for a person who has been on the brunt of the police, who was framed, arrested and released.

It is not an exaggeration to say that this is the biggest story to have broken in recent years. It is not an authoritarian regime going after dissidents, nor is it a terrorist group getting spied on. The list of the leak, as a broader outlook, has no pattern; the targets are simple to beat journalists who cover election commission news or activists who are trying to stop the unfair cutting of trees. Pegasus is not cheap spyware, which means the intended targets are intended to be high value. If these allegations against the "vetted government" are true, then the taxpayers' money is used to abuse this sophisticated spyware. When high profile lawyers, journalists, opposition party leaders are being spied on, it is the absolute exploitation of the spirit of Democracy. Accountability lies at the heart of democratic government. The current system displays critical weaknesses, but these can be addressed. Everyone can rest only when someone is held accountable. Without accountability, will the spirit of democracy rest?


The Daily News

Washington Post

Indian Press

Al Jazeera

News Laundry

The Wired

The Hindu