What is Pegasus?
Pegasus is a type of spyware created by the Israeli cyberarms firm NSO Group that can be installed secretly on mobile phones (and other devices) running most versions of iOS and Android. According to the 2021 Project Pegasus leaks, the current Pegasus malware is capable of exploiting all recent iOS versions up to iOS 14.6.
As of 2016, Pegasus could read text messages, track calls, collect passwords, track position, access the microphone and camera of the target device, and harvest data from apps. Pegasus is a winged horse from Greek mythology, and the spyware bears his name. It's a computer virus that can infect cell phones by "flying through the air."
Current Issue Relating to Pegasus Spyware
The Supreme Court-appointed Technical Committee probing accusations of Pegasus spyware usage issued an official notification on January 3rd, 2022, requesting citizens to report it if they believed their mobile device had been affected. The committee gave residents till January 7 to email their comments to email@example.com.
On January 7, 2022, a lawyer wrote to the Supreme Court's Technical Committee to investigate claims of surveillance through Pegasus, claiming that Pegasus Malware had compromised his mobile device. In the Bhima Koregaon Elgar Parishad case, Advocate Nihalsing B Rathod claims that his phone was intercepted in order to gain access to confidential communication and legal tactics drafted on behalf of his clients.
Surendra Gadding, Sudhir Dhawale, Rona Wilson, Mahesh Raut, Shoma Sen, Ramesh Gaichor, and Sagar Gorkhe were among those represented by Mr. Rathod in the Bhima Koregaon Elgar Parishad hearings. Prior to his imprisonment, he was also advised by Anand Teltumbade and Stan Swami on a number of occasions. As a result, Mr. Rathod has requested an opportunity to testify before the committee and cross-examine the agencies that the committee may summon during the course of the investigation. He has also urged that the committee's proceedings be made public and that anyone willing to provide information be allowed to come before the committee and cross-examine any witnesses from government agencies summoned.
Rathod claims his phone was tapped in order to gain access to confidential communications and legal strategy drafted on his clients' behalf.
Rathod told the Committee that as it is a client-counsel connection, any targeting of my phone would be a major violation of my professional privilege, jeopardising my ability to represent my clients and infringing both their and my constitutional rights to fair representation in court.
Mr. Rathod has demanded that the following information be investigated and disclosed:
- Is it correct that any Indian government agency, state government agency, or any other institution classified as a state agency under Article 12 of the Constitution purchased Pegasus spyware?
- If so, where did the spyware come from, how much did it cost, and to which budget head was it charged in the acquiring agency's records?
- Under whose authority and direction was it used against lawyers, journalists, human rights activists, and politicians?
- The administrators of the same had access to personal information, data, and records.
- What is the law that approved the use of spyware against me, and what is the record that authorises the use of said malware against me and my co-workers?
Mr. Rathod has mentioned that the following grounds lead him to suspect that his phone was hacked by Pegasus via the WhatsApp application.
- Video calls from several international numbers have been received multiple times. In the Elgar Parishad Bhima Koregaon case, something similar happened with Vira Sathidar (now deceased) and Mrs. Minal Gadling, w/o Ad Adv Surendra Gadling, who are both currently in captivity in Taloja jail.
- A message from someone claiming to be affiliated with Citizen Lab in Canada, notifying him that his phone had been targeted by Pegasus malware.
- All of this information about his phone being targeted, as well as the phones of several other human rights advocates, became public after they were approached and given multiple interviews by the press and electronic media.
- He was officially informed by WhatsApp that his phone had been hijacked due to the usage of spyware, and he received this information through a WhatsApp message.
The Hon’ble Supreme Court established an independent expert committee led by former Supreme Court judge Justice RV Raveendran on October 26, last year to investigate claims of eavesdropping of journalists, activists, politicians, and others using the Israeli corporation NSO's Pegasus spyware.
The order was issued by a bench led by Chief Justice of India NV Ramana in response to the Union government's unwillingness to say whether or not it used Pegasus spyware.
The court rejected accepting the central government's national security justification, stating that the state will not be given a free pass every time national security is invoked and that the court will not be a "silent spectator." The Court rejected the Union government's proposal to form a committee to investigate the matter, stating that an independent committee is essential to ensure a fair and impartial probe. After finding that the petitioners had shown a prima facie case, the Supreme Court ordered an independent investigation into the issue, stating that unlawful surveillance can have a "chilling impact on journalistic freedom."