New Delhi: The Government of India has junked away media reports which claimed that phone numbers of more than 40 Indian journalists appeared in a list which are believed to be possible candidates for surveillance using Israel-made spyware ‘Pegasus’.
In an official statement issued on Sunday evening, the central government said that the news report appears to be a “fishing expedition, based on conjectures and exaggerations to malign the Indian democracy and its institutions.”
“Government of India’s response to a Right to Information application about the use of Pegasus has been prominently reported by media and is in itself sufficient to counter any malicious claims about the alleged association between the Government of India and Pegasus,” the official statement read.
It further said that, “India’s Minister of Electronics & IT has also spoken in detail, including in the Parliament, that there has been no unauthorised interception by Government agencies. It is important to note that Government agencies have a well established protocol for interception, which includes sanction and supervision from highly ranked officials in central & state governments, for clear stated reasons only in national interest.”
Centre’s response came after the Wire in its report published on Sunday claimed that forensic tests have confirmed some of these Indian journalists were successfully snooped upon by an unidentified agency using Pegasus spyware.
According to the report, the leaked list of potential targets for surveillance includes “numbers of top journalists at big media houses like the Hindustan Times, including executive editor Shishir Gupta, India Today, Network18, The Hindu and Indian Express.”
The Guardian too confirmed the news and reported that more than 180 editors, investigative reporters and other journalists around the world appeared on the leaked list of potential targets for surveillance. These include journalists who work for some of the world’s most prestigious media organisations such as Wall Street Journal, CNN, the New York Times, Al Jazeera, France 24, Radio Free Europe, Mediapart, El País, Associated Press, Le Monde, Bloomberg, Agence France-Presse, the Economist, Reuters and Voice of America.
The last time people in India heard about Pegasus spyware was in 2019, when some WhatsApp users received messages that Pegasus had hacked their phones. Those who fell victim to this spyware included many journalists and activists. It first came into the limelight in 2016, when an Arab activist received a suspicious message.
Pegasus is a spyware developed by the Israeli company NSO Group. According to several reports, the firm has said in the past that it only sells the equipment to governments and is not responsible for its misuse.
If your phone has been attacked by this spyware, it can also access your end-to-end encrypted chats. According to research, Pegasus can see your messages, track your calls, and even track users’ app activity. Apart from this, it can also affect your location, and data of the video camera. The surprising thing is that after the phone is hacked with this spyware, the user does not even know. It can hack your device and get information about all the apps including WhatsApp.