Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Pegasus: After senior journalists, Editors Guild of India moves Supreme Court on Israeli spyware, its authorisation

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The Editors’ Guild of India has filed a PIL in the Supreme Court, seeking directions to the Union government to reveal whether the Centre or any of its agencies procured licence to use Pegasus spyware from the Israeli NSO Group or its companies on Indian citizens. The PIL also wanted the Union to produce the order issued authorising the interception, monitoring and decryption of mobile devices of Indian citizens.

The plea filed by the EGI and Journalist Mrinal Pande, alleging that forensic analysis detected that Pegasus was installed on phones, inter alia, through a ‘zero-click process,’ which means it does not require any action by the targeted phone’s user, and can remotely infiltrate a device.

The petitioners have further sought “a complete overhaul of the architecture for surveillance by challenging the constitutional vires of Section 5 of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885; Rule 419A of the Indian Telegraph Rules 1951; Section 69 of the Information Technology Act, 2000, and Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Interception, Monitoring and Decryption) of Information Rules, 2009.

“Among the 37 forensically verified cases, Pegasus was detected on the phones of 10 Indians. Forensic examination by cyber experts have confirmed the use of Pegasus infection in the phones of following senior journalists: (i) S.N.M Abidi (Senior Journalist), (ii) Sushant Singh (Previously at Indian Express), (iii) M.K. Venu (Founder, The Wire), (iv) Siddharth Varadarajan (Founder, The Wire), and (v) Paranjoy Guha Thakurta (Senior Journalist). Attempts at hacking was detected on the phones of: (i) Vijaita Singh (Senior Journalist at The Hindu), (ii) Smita Sharma (Previously with TV18),” the petition alleged.

While defining the details about the Israeli spyware, the plea said Pegasus is capable of astronomical surveillance, which includes accessing every bit of stored data on one’s phone; real time access to emails, texts, phone calls; controlling all cameras on the device; activating the sound recording function; transmitting all sounds in the vicinity of the device; detecting whether two phones have come in physical proximity; activating features even when the phone is switched off, and more.

The Supreme Court on Friday had decided to take up next week another PIL seeking an independent probe by a sitting or a retired judge into the charges of spying by Israel spyware Pegasus on a number of journalists and opposition politicians.

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