Why The Pegasus Project is a Much Bigger Issue than It Seems

मेरे फ़ोन को हैक करने की तमन्ना है तुम्हे,
मेरे फ़ोन में मीम्स के सिवा कुछ भी नहीं।
- Varun Grover
 (inspired from Jaun Elia)

Recently, Amnesty International, a human rights organization came up with a database of 50,000 phone numbers which were either infected or were potential targets of a spyware called Pegasus. NSO Group, an Israeli company, has made this spyware. It sells it only to governments and official agencies for security purposes, which is why this issue has become a lot more controversial. Various governments including India’s have been suspected to keep an eye on its citizens, especially the dissenters, using this dangerous weapon.

The Pegasus software is such a spyware that it can be installed on your device automatically. Unlike other spywares, you don’t have to click on any link or attend any call for it to enter into your phone. Once in, it can have access to all your files and photos, it can activate the camera and the microphone, and can know your location as well. This is what makes this spyware so dangerous.

All this uproar started when WhatsApp filed a suit against the NSO Group in the year 2019 alleging that several of its users’ chats were read through the use of this spyware (again, about a hundred targets were Indian). The California Court gave its ruling in favour of WhatsApp last year after which the NSO Group challenged it in US’s 9th Circuit Appellate Court where the case is still pending.

Most of the numbers in Amnesty’s list are from countries such as Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and India. The sad part is to see India’s name on a list of highly undemocratic countries. This is a clear example of how still the Indian state has too much power in its hands.

The Indian government’s response has not been quite satisfying. The very frequent (and favourite) narrative of ‘International Conspiracy’ is back. Till now, there hasn’t been much investigation done by the government. And it seems that they are not interested to do that as well. Neither are they clearly denying whether they have bought the Pegasus or not. Meanwhile, our dear media is giving all they have got to defend the government. Nevertheless, the Supreme Court will hear the matter on 5th of august.

All this while, I feel, we as citizens are taking this matter too lightly. This is a grave problem and can destroy anyone’s life. Some reports also suggest that this software could have been used to plant evidences of the Bhima Koregaon case on the computers of the activists who are in custody right now. Imagine if such a situation happens with you. If you have some file on your device without your knowledge and that is used as an evidence to send you behind the bars. How would you defend yourself? Rather, how CAN you defend yourself? Will you tell the court that you don’t know anything about it despite the fact that it was found on your device? A time may come when each one of us would be denied sippers by the system.

Cyberweapons such as this can have grave implications. As M.K Narayanan writes in a column in The Hindu,

“Cyberweapons carry untold capacity to distort systems and structures — civilian or military — and, most importantly, interfere with democratic processes, aggravate domestic divisions and, above all, unleash forces over which established institutions or even governments have little control. The Pegasus spyware is all this and more.”

The whole incident reminds me of one of my friend’s WhatsApp status which goes something like this:

“Followed by Hon. Amit Shah, and so are you.”

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