India surveilling high-profile journalists with Pegasus Spyware, reveals Amnesty probe

The Indian government has targeted high-profile journalists with Pegasus software, Amnesty International and The Washington Post investigation reveals.

Livemint, Written By Sayantani Biswas
Updated28 Dec 2023
The Pegasus spyware, created by Israeli firm NSO Group, is used to gain access to someone's phone messages and emails, peruse photos, eavesdrop on calls, track locations and even film the owner with the camera
The Pegasus spyware, created by Israeli firm NSO Group, is used to gain access to someone’s phone messages and emails, peruse photos, eavesdrop on calls, track locations and even film the owner with the camera(REUTERS)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led Indian government has targeted high-profile journalists in India with the infamous Pegasus software, a joint investigation by Amnesty International and The Washington Post has revealed. 

The Pegasus spyware, created by Israeli firm NSO Group, is used to gain access to someone's phone messages and emails, peruse photos, eavesdrop on calls, track locations and even film the owner with the camera

Notably, the Pegasus spyware is only sold to governments or security agencies. The investigation revealed that the Pegasus spyware had been extensively used against journalists and activists in dozens of countries, including India.

Amnesty said journalists Siddharth Varadarajan of The Wire and Anand Mangnale of The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) had been targeted with the spyware on their iPhones.

In 2021, New Delhi was accused of using Pegasus spyware to surveil journalists, opposition politicians and activists, with leaked documents showing the spyware had been used against more than 1,000 Indian phone numbers.

Congress MP Rahul Gandhi was among those targeted.

PM Modi's government denied conducting "illegal surveillance" but refused to cooperate with a Supreme Court probe into the allegations, the findings of which have not been made public.

The OCCRP, one of the two target organisations named in Thursday's report, published an investigation in August into the financial dealings of Indian tycoon Gautam Adani.

Gautam Adani's conglomerate shed more than $100 billion in value earlier this year after a US short-seller investment firm made explosive allegations of accounting fraud, which the Indian company dismissed as an organised "smear campaign".

Apple iPhone hacked of Opposition leaders in India

In November, several Opposition leaders including Trinamool Congress (TMC)'s Mahua Moitra, Shiv Sena's (UBT) Priyanka Chaturvedi, Congress leaders Shashi Tharoor and Pawan Khera, and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)'s Raghav Chadha said that they have received warnings from Apple about 'state-sponsored attackers' trying to compromise their phone.

In that case, Ashwini Vaishnaw, the union minister for information and technology, said the government was "concerned" by the complaints.

Press freedom in India

Activists say that press freedom in the world's biggest democracy has suffered during PM Modi's tenure.

India has fallen 21 spots to 161 out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index, compiled by Reporters Without Borders, since he took office in 2014.

Journalists reporting critically on the government say they are subjected to judicial harassment and relentless campaigns of online abuse.

(With AFP inputs)

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