Indian Prime Minister Modi accused of “treason” in the Pegasus spyware scandal Science News

Indian Prime Minister Modi accused of “treason” in the Pegasus spyware scandal Science News


India’s main opposition party, the Congress Party, accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of “treason” and endangering national security. Earlier news reported that dozens of Indians could be targeted by Israeli-made spyware snooping. .

On Sunday, a survey conducted by a consortium of media organizations revealed that more than 1,000 phone numbers in India were chosen among nearly 50,000 phone numbers in the world as customers of the Israel-based NSO Group, which is the maker of Pegasus spyware. Quotient.

The leaked list was shared with the news media by the Paris-based news non-profit organization Forbidden Stories and human rights organization Amnesty International. It shows the identities of more than 300 phone numbers in India, including politicians and dozens of people. Journalists, businessmen, and even two ministers of the Modi government.

Indian media reported that Modi’s main rival and former Congress Party chairman Rahul Gandhi was one of dozens of Indian politicians, activists and government critics identified as potential targets of Pegasus spyware. .

“Whether the surveillance of Indian security forces, judiciary, cabinet ministers, opposition leaders including Rahul Gandhi, journalists and other activities through spyware of foreign entities is not a crime of treason and an unforgivable breach of national security “” Congress spokesman Randeep Surjewala said at a news conference in New Delhi on Monday.

Gandhi’s phone number has been abandoned by him, and it appears to be a target chosen between 2018 and mid-2019 (when India’s parliamentary elections are held).

The Congress Party asked on Monday to investigate the role of Modi and his closest aide, Minister of the Interior Amit Shah, in the scandal.

“Our first request is to immediately dismiss Amit Shah, the Minister of the Interior and Internal Security, and to investigate the prime minister’s role in this matter,” Sujewala said.

Others reportedly targeted by phone numbers include a top virologist, a woman accused of rape by the former chief justice of India, a former election commissioner who oversaw the 2019 national polls, and Prashant, a leading political strategist Kishor.

What is the Pegasus project?

Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International have access to a list of tens of thousands of phone numbers around the world. These phone numbers may be targeted by Pegasus spyware and shared with media organizations from different countries.

Although Forbidden Stories oversaw the investigation called Project Pegasus, the security laboratory of Amnesty International provided forensic analysis and technical support during the investigation.

Pegasus is spyware owned by Israeli technology company NSO Group. It can realize remote monitoring of smart phones, secretly unlock the content of the target phone and convert it into a monitoring device.

The company claims that spyware is specifically sold to “censored governments” around the world to combat “terrorism” and other serious crimes.

The company did not confirm the identity of its customers, saying that the findings of the Pegasus project were “exaggerated and baseless.”

Although the Indian government has not yet acknowledged whether any of its agencies are using spyware, investigations have shown that hacker spyware is widely and continuously abused in the country.

The Indian news website The Wire and The Guardian and The Washington Post reported on Monday that most of these people, including Gandhi, were targets on the eve of the 2019 national election, and Modi exceeded that in 2014.

This exposure caused a major political controversy in India. Congress referred to Modi’s right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as the “Bharatiya Jasoos Party”-“jasoos” means spy in Hindi-and accused it of listening to people. “Bedroom Talk””.

Who is the target of India?

Although it is not known how many phones on the list are surveillance targets or how many attempts have been successful, the Washington Post said that a forensic analysis of 22 smartphones in India showed that at least 10 smartphones were included on the list. With Pegasus as the goal, seven of them succeeded.

Among the Indians whose mobile phones were targeted by NSO-owned spyware, former Indian election commissioner Ashok Lavasa (Ashok Lavasa) once accused Modi of violating the model code of conduct before the 2019 election.

In addition, at least 11 of these phone numbers belonged to former Supreme Court staff and their families. The woman, who could not be identified due to legal reasons, accused the former Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi of rape in April 2019 and was quickly dismissed.

It was revealed that in the same week that her allegations against Gogoi were first reported, the phone numbers belonging to the woman and her family began to be monitored. Gogoi is currently a member of the BJP of the Indian Parliament.

Also on the Pegasus spyware list were more than 40 Indian journalists from different news organizations.

Vijaita Singh, who reports on internal security for Indian newspapers, is one of them. She told Al Jazeera that she didn’t realize any intrusion of her mobile phone until a few days ago.

“It’s disturbing and disturbing,” she said. “Nowadays, our mobile phones do include all aspects of our lives.”

Reporter Ritika Chopra reports on the Indian Election Commission and Ministry of Education for the Indian Express.

She said that only after The Wire contacted her for comment last week did she discover that her phone number appeared on the leaked list of potential surveillance targets.

“Someone told me that I might become a target in 2019. I don’t want to speculate about the behind-the-scenes. This violates my privacy and freedom, but it will not affect my work as a reporter,” Chopra told Al Jazeera.

Paranjoy Guha Thakurta (Paranjoy Guha Thakurta), a writer and former editor of “Economic and Political Weekly”, had his mobile phone stolen. He told Al Jazeera that this exposure had caused him ” Chilling effect”.

“It sends signals and messages to other people, and you can be spied on,” he told Al Jazeera.

Thakurta said that a “very small part” of the Indian media “actually plays the role of the fourth country and holds the truth about power”.

“Look at who are these more than 40 reporters? They are all reporters criticizing the government, so this is obviously sending a message that we can invade your privacy,” he said.

What did the government say?

At least two serving ministers in the Modi government—Ashwini Vaishnaw and Prahlad Singh Patel—also appeared in the leaked database. These figures are believed to have been selected by NSO Group’s customers as potential surveillance targets.

Ironically, Vaishnaw, who was recently appointed as Minister of Information Technology, defended the government on this issue in Parliament on Monday, calling the exposure an “attempt to discredit India’s democracy and its well-established institutions”.

“In the past, there were similar allegations [about the use of Pegasus] On WhatsApp, these have no factual basis, and they are categorically denied,” he said.

Vaishnaw said that “any form of illegal surveillance” cannot be achieved through “checks and balances of our laws and powerful institutions.”

The Interior Minister Shah claimed that the Pegasus report issued by the “destroyers” helped the “obstructors” when the parliament started the monsoon meeting.

“Saboteurs are global organizations that don’t like India’s progress. Blockers are politicians who don’t want India’s progress. Indian people are very good at understanding this chronology and connection,” he said on Monday.

In a statement on Monday, Access Now, an organization that defends the digital rights of users around the world, stated that products sold by NSO were allegedly “used to invade and hack into the private communications of thousands of people around the world,” which made us angry.

Raman Jit Singh Chima, Asia Pacific Policy Director and Head of Global Cybersecurity at Access Now, told Al Jazeera that hacking is a crime, even if it is directed by the government. He asked the Indian government to answer whether its agency or security department is dealing with NSO.

“The previous statement avoided this issue and vaguely asserted that safeguards were taken to avoid excessive surveillance. This is clearly not the case. The world’s largest democracy cannot be at the mercy of a shady private company,” he said.

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