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The Pegasus Spyware Controversy Raises the Government’s Role in Cyber-surveillance

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In the new advent of the technical era, illegal cyber-surveillance reflects a potential threat to national and individual personal security. According to a news website the Wire, phone numbers of journalists, activists, Indian ministers, opposition party politicians, and others are listed on a database of targets for hacking that used Israeli spyware ‘Pegasus’. 

Israeli cyber arms firm NSO Group developed the spyware. The firm states that it provides vetted governments with technology to combat terror and crime. Pegasus is named after a mythical winged horse that can infect phones.

K. C. Venugopal member of the Indian National Congress tweeted, “Big Brother is watching you! 40 journalists, three top Opposition politicians, 1 Constitutional authority, 1 SC judge, many businessmen & 2 of Modi govt’s own Cabinet ministers have been spied upon.”

Most names were targeted between 2018 and 2019. There is no conclusive evidence that all phones have been hacked. The Israeli firm denied the allegations and said that the firm will consider filing a defamation lawsuit. 

The Central government responded to the allegations regarding the Pegasus spyware controversy. The government representative highlighted that India has a robust democracy that ensures the fundamental right to privacy of all its citizens. To secure the privacy of citizens the government has introduced bills like the Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019 and the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021.

The government denied such allegations of surveillance saying that there is no factual truth associated with this controversy. 

Similar claims were made in the past regarding the use of Pegasus spyware on WhatsApp. Those reports also lacked a factual basis and were denied by all parties, in the Indian Supreme Court. This seems like a similar fishing expedition that is trying to destabilize the Democratic roots in India.

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