India’s Pegasus Scandal: NSO says “The Target List in India Is Not Ours, Never Was”

As NSO denies to take the burden of Pegasus’s Indian Snoop list, the scam in India becomes deeper and darker with every passing minute.

The NSO Group – the Israeli technology firm that developed and sells the Pegasus spyware programme – told NDTV on Tuesday that the list of Indian phone numbers reportedly targeted for surveillance by the government with its software is “not ours, never was”.

A NSO spokesperson told NDTV the company is “not related to the list published by Forbidden Stories (the Paris-based non-profit group that worked with Amnesty International to obtain the database of 50,000 phone numbers that triggered this controversy)”.

“It is not a NSO list, and it never was – it is fabricated information. It is not a list of targets or potential targets of NSO’s customers,” the spokesperson said, adding “repeated reliance on this list and association of people on this list as potential surveillance targets are false and misleading.”

“The company does not have access to the data of its customers,” the spokesperson also said, adding, however, that clients “are obligated to provide us with such information under investigation”.

“If and when NSO receives credible proof of misuse of its technologies, it will conduct a thorough investigation, as it always has and always will,” the spokesperson said.

On Monday the company put out a statement denying all allegations after an explosive report from The Wire said over 300 Indian phone numbers – including those belonging to opposition leaders like Rahul Gandhi and senior journalists – were potential targets for hacking. It said it only offered its programme to “vetted governments for the sole purpose of saving lives through preventing crime and terror acts”.

Over the past few days an international media consortium – which includes The Wire and The Washington Post – have published reports that claim clients of the NSO Group used Pegasus to hack, or try to hack, phones of opposition leaders, journalists, human rights activists and others.

The row prompted fierce protests from the opposition on Monday – the first day of the Parliament’s monsoon session – with Prime Minister Modi faced with slogans and shouting as he spoke.

Pegasus works by infiltrating phones via ‘zero-click’ attacks – which do not require interaction from the phone’s owner – on or Apple’s iMessage or WhatsApp, which is, by some margin, the world’s most widely-used instant messaging service, with 400 million users in India alone.

In 2019, WhatsApp said 1,400 users in 20 countries, including Indian journalists and activists, had been targeted by Pegasus in May that year. The NSO Group denied the claims, saying: “Our technology is not designed or licensed for use against human rights activists and journalists.”

The Digpu News Bottomline

Pegasus’s Indian snoop list has some of the biggest names from politics, education, activism, law and journalism. This indicates that either the data being stolen from phones was intended for purpose or to accumulate leverage over some of the most influential people in the country. While it has been revealed that the cost of spying over people using Pegasus via their phones goes into crores, it is certain that someone with a huge financial background is behind the scandal.

The ruling Bhartiya Janata Party has issued various statements but in none of them has it denied the use of the software Pegasus. The ambiguity across these statements is suspicious but at the same time, if the government has nothing to do with it, this is an out and out attack on the sovereignty of India and deserves a staunch response.

Will PM Modi’s 56-inch chest respond to this attack on the country’s sovereignty or is the body complacent? Let’s see in the coming days!

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