In a healthy democracy, the Opposition and the media play crucial roles within a system overseen by a ruling authority that requires transparency to function effectively. The fact that more than a dozen Opposition leaders and journalists have received alerts from Apple, notifying them of potential targeting by “state-sponsored attackers,” raises concerns that this may be a repetition of the surveillance experienced during the Pegasus incident.
Repeated allegations of spyware use need thorough, independent probe. Analyse in the context of recent news about state-sponsored attackers. (15 marks, 250 words).
About the Pegasus Attack:
- In early 2022, The New York Times reported on how Pegasus, a spyware created by the Israel-based NSO Group, was used to further Israeli interests.
- Israel offered Pegasus to other nations, which then used it against Opposition figures, journalists, and dissidents.
- In July 2021, the Pegasus Project, a consortium of reporters, uncovered that at least 40 journalists, cabinet ministers, and other officials in India may have been subjected to Pegasus surveillance.
- A panel from the Supreme Court of India, however, found no definitive proof of spyware on the 29 phones it examined. Nonetheless, the apex court highlighted that the Union government was uncooperative.
Response of the Indian Government:
- Unlike the Western governments that took strict measures in response to revelations about spyware usage, the Indian government exhibited a lackadaisical and dismissive attitude towards the NSO Group and its products, which were allegedly purchased from Israel as part of a $2 billion package including advanced weaponry and intelligence equipment in 2017, as reported by The NYT.
- Apple’s iPhones are used by nearly 20% of global smartphone users and around 7% in India due to their versatile features and strong security measures. Researchers had identified spyware like Pegasus targeting iPhones and the iOS operating system as far back as 2016.
- Apple had released updates to patch Pegasus vulnerabilities and initiated legal action against NSO.
- Apple clarified that the recent alerts did not point fingers at a specific state actor, and it couldn’t disclose the method used to identify the targets. However, it stressed the importance of taking these alerts seriously.
With the specific targets being Opposition leaders and journalists, the question of whether the ruling establishment is behind this surveillance becomes crucial. To verify this, an impartial and empowered investigation is needed, possibly involving the Supreme Court. This time, the Union government should be compelled to cooperate. In the short term, the government should disclose its dealings with NSO and its use of software from such agencies. It should also consider adopting measures similar to those implemented by other governments to restrict such entities.