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Modi charged with treason as Pegasus spyware row shakes India

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The revelations revealed that Indian opposition leader Rahul Gandhi was among hundreds of other citizens selected for possible scrutiny by the Modi government.

Earlier this week, a major investigation by a global media consortium into a data breach of more than 50,000 issues found that NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware was used to hack journalists, government officials and activists. human rights around the world.

The list was dominated by figures from ten countries: Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Hungary, India, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Morocco, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The leaked data was first viewed by French nonprofit media Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International’s Security Lab, which shared it with seventeen media outlets in ten countries.

With more details revealed by day, where the espionage operation appears to have been the most extensive – at least for now – is India.

Indian information portal Thread revealed that hundreds of verified Indian phone numbers were targeted between 2017 and 2019, including two belonging to Indian opposition leader Rahul Gandhi.

Gandhi was identified for surveillance in 2019, alongside other prominent figures in the run-up to India’s general election in May 2019.

Writing in a column for The Hindu today, Pranesh Prakash called the “India’s Watergate Moment” revelations.

Additionally, the Guardian
reported today that Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan was also enlisted as a Person of Interest by India in 2019.

Who was targeted?

Apparently 300 verified mobile phone numbers have been identified outside of Rahul Gandhi, including those of ministers and government officials, journalists, members of the judiciary (including a sitting Supreme Court judge), rights activists , businessmen and scientists.

Thread confirmed that the Pegasus spyware was found in the smartphone of survey strategist Prashant Kishore, after being examined by Amnesty’s security lab.

The Security Lab report showed unsuccessful attempts to launch a Pegasus attack on Kishor’s phone months before the 2019 election.

Another target was Ashok Lavasa, the only member of the electoral commission who found Modi violated the model code of conduct in the 2019 elections.

Records also revealed that Jagdeep Chhokhar, the head of a key election monitoring association for democratic reforms, was enlisted around the same time as Lavasa.

At least 40 Indian journalists have been listed as targets between 2017-2019, including Thread and other major media outlets.

Several prominent activists, including the now imprisoned Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) student leader Umar Khalid and an anti-caste leader Ashok Bharti, were also part of the database.

Members of the Indian Youth Congress staged a protest against the Modi government following media reports about the use of the Pegasus software to spy on prominent personalities in the country, near Parliament on July 20, 2021 in New Delhi, in India.  Indian media outlet The Wire revealed that the phone numbers of more than 300 citizens, including 40 journalists, were allegedly spied on using Israeli spyware Pegasus.

Members of the Indian Youth Congress staged a protest against the Modi government following media reports about the use of the Pegasus software to spy on prominent personalities in the country, near Parliament on July 20, 2021 in New Delhi, in India. Indian media outlet The Wire revealed that the phone numbers of more than 300 citizens, including 40 journalists, were allegedly spied on using Israeli spyware Pegasus. (Mohd Zakir / Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

A number of BJP members as well as media figures not known to criticize the government have also been targeted.

New BJP Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw, who rejected reports for nothing “but an attempt to slander Indian democracy and its well-established institutions”, turned out to be a potential target in 2017 as well. As was the Union Minister of the government Prahlad Patel.

Abroad, besides the Pakistani prime minister, names included ambassadors to India from Afghanistan, China, Iran, Nepal and Saudi Arabia.

indian political reaction

Following the series of revelations, Narendra Modi’s government was accused by the opposition Congress Party of treason and of being the “deployer and executor” of a “spy racket”.

“This is clearly a betrayal and a total abdication of national security by the Modi government, especially since the foreign company could eventually gain access to this data,” Congress said. mentionned in a report.

“This is an unforgivable sacrilege and a denial of the constitutional oath by the Minister of the Interior and the Prime Minister,” he added.

Amid slogans launched against the government of Indian Prime Minister during Tuesday’s parliamentary session, opposition members demanded an independent investigation into the espionage allegations and the resignation of Interior Minister Amit Shah.

In a statement, Shah insisted that the purpose of the revelations was to “do everything possible to humiliate India on the world stage, peddle the same old tales about our nation and derail India’s development trajectory.”

“This is a report from disruptors to obstructors,” he said.

However, Shah or other BJP members have not directly responded to claims that India has used Pegasus spyware to monitor its own citizens. And although the government has not categorically denied spying on individuals, he said “allegations of government surveillance of specific individuals have no concrete basis or associated truth.”

NSO claims that its Pegasus spyware – classified as military-grade surveillance technology and exported only with the approval of the Israeli Ministry of Defense – is sold to “controlled governments.”

So far, the Modi government has refused to declare whether or not he is an ONS client.

However, researchers at Citizen Lab, the University of Toronto cybersecurity group that studied Pegasus in depth, have concluded that India is one of the company’s clients.

Meanwhile, according to the Guardian, “The selection of Indian numbers largely began around the time of Modi’s trip to Israel in 2017, the first visit to the country of an Indian prime minister and a marker of the burgeoning relationship between the two states, including including billions of dollars in agreements between Delhi and the Israeli defense industries ”.

Why is this important

The revelations have major implications for surveillance and privacy in the world’s largest democracy.

Priyanka Gandhi, Rahul’s sister and general secretary of Congress, called the Pegasus leaks “a front against democracy.”

“If this is true, the Modi government appears to have launched a serious and sinister attack on the right to privacy – constitutionally guaranteed to Indian citizens as a fundamental right,” she said. mentionned on Twitter.

Indian technology information platform Medianama mentionned: “Although India has long been suspected of being a buyer of Pegasus, the extent and nature of the surveillance it has allegedly undertaken, and the targets it appears to have chosen, do not seem to indicate problems national security agencies linked to organized crime – for which surveillance is generally sanctioned.

In view of the prosecution infringement of media freedom and stable curb dissent that has occurred under Modi’s tenure since 2014, that his government could be involved in what essentially amounts to political espionage, adds to another scandal that is not expected to go away anytime soon.

Source: TRT World

Sources

1/ https://Google.com/

2/ https://www.trtworld.com/magazine/modi-accused-of-treason-as-pegasus-spyware-row-rocks-india-48560

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