Pegasus in India – supreme court to appoint expert panel this week

Pegasus hack linked to WhatsApp 2019 hack

Indian journalists|Guild
The Supreme Court of India, New Delhi. Photo The Hindu

The Pegasus hack of Indian citizens and journalists gets curiouser and curiouser. The government continues to delay and deny the need for any answers citing it as a security and terrorism issue. The supreme court has now decided to appoint its own panel to look into what happened and who was responsible. Meanwhile, a story in The Wire by Sukanya Shantha, Kabir Agarwal and Anuj Srivas on 27 September 2021 says, “A closer analysis of the records of probable spyware targets reported recently by The Wire as part of the Pegasus Project and the 2019 use of WhatsApp to hack Indian phones – an attack the Narendra Modi government acknowledged in Parliament that year – provides key corroboration of the leaked data’s robustness.

“Not only do all of the two dozen Indians, who publicly acknowledged being notified in 2019 about being a Pegasus target, figure in the records accessed by The Wire and its international media partners, but the leaked database records also indicate their phone numbers were selected during the 12-day window in March-April 2019 when WhatsApp says Pegasus spyware used vulnerabilities in the messaging app to target users.

“A comparative analysis of these two sources of data – the list of 2019 targets and Pegasus Project data – also leads to new revelations. For example, using the Pegasus Project data, The Wire has also been able to identify at least one previously unknown target of the 2019 attack, an individual who chose not to go public two years ago.”

Supreme Court to appoint an expert panel to probe Pegasus

On 23 September the supreme court of India said that it would set up a committee of experts to study the allegations of illegal surveillance using Pegasus spyware and issue orders next week. Meanwhile, applauding the supreme courts initiative in appointing a panel of experts to examine the Pegasus hacks against citizens, sections of the Indian print media suggest that it would have more credibility than a government panel. The Indian Express said on 24 September that, “A probe under an SC-appointed committee has more credibility than one by a government panel. At stake are vital issues involving civil liberties, including the right to privacy of citizens, the integrity of institutions and due process. The public is entitled to know, as the court said, ‘whether this spyware has been used by the government by any other method other than permissible under the law.’”

Apart from citing various recent statements in court by the government, The Indian Express goes on to say, “India’s stance on Pegasus has been in sharp contrast to other governments, which have taken serious note of the revelations and set up probes. The court has rightly recognised that the likes of Pegasus pose a threat to core values of democracy as well as the autonomy and credibility of institutions and processes. Its panel and its work are keenly awaited.”

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