New Delhi: A group of 19 activists and lawyers Friday wrote an open letter to the Narendra Modi government, claiming that they were targeted by the controversial surveillance software Pegasus — a product of the Israel-based NSO Group — and demanded to know if tax-payers’ money was used on this kind of cyber-surveillance.
“We, the undersigned, have all received messages from WhatsApp Inc. over the last fortnight, informing us that our mobile devices were the target by a highly sophisticated cyberattack,” the letter read.
“WhatsApp attributes this attack to a malicious spyware called Pegasus, which is the flagship product of the Israeli based NSO group and its parent company Q Cyber Technologies,” it said.
Some of the signatories are Dalit activist Vira Sathidar, lawyer Nihal Singh Rathod, who works with Human Rights Law Network, PhD scholar Ajmal Khan, activists Bela Bhatia and Seema Azad, and human rights lawyers Jagdish Meshram, Ankit Grewal and Shaline Gera, among others.
Calling the surveillance “deeply disturbing”, they said it not just violated their privacy, but that of their friends, family and colleagues too.
“This violates our fundamental right of privacy, and compromises not only our security, but also of those in our extended network of family, friends, colleagues, clients, sources etc,” the letter said.
We are deeply grateful to our readers & viewers for their time, trust and subscriptions.
Quality journalism is expensive and needs readers to pay for it. Your support will define our work and ThePrint’s future.
‘Put all information on cyber-surveillance in public domain’
The letter asked the Modi government to reveal whatever information they have on this cyberattack and demanded to know if tax-payers’ money was used for this purpose.
“As affected persons and concerned citizens, we appeal to the Government of India to reveal whatever information it has about this cyberattack, other similar methods of mass surveillance and the identity of the concerned players,” the letter said.
“It is a matter of public concern whether Indian tax-payer money has been spent on this kind of cyber-surveillance requiring the expenditure of crores of rupees and a vast infrastructure of information technology,” it added.
Last week, WhatsApp said Pegasus software was used to spy on Indian journalists and human rights activists. The revelation by WhatsApp created a stir, prompting the government to ask the instant messaging app to explain the breach.
The NSO Group had previously said it works only for “vetted and legitimate” government agencies, raising several eyebrows.
On Wednesday this week, Law and Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said India takes its privacy seriously, and data imperialism will not be acceptable.
Letter asks govt to apprise people of the steps it’s taking
The letter also asked the government if it was aware of any “contract between any of its various ministries, departments, agencies, or any State Government, and the NSO group or any of its contractors to deploy Pegasus or related malware for any operations within India.”
The letter demanded the government to place any such information they have about the surveillance, in the public domain.
“…the details of such a contract, including its total value and the contracting agencies should be placed in the public domain, including information regarding the monitoring and oversight to which these operations have been subjected in order to prevent their abuse,” it said.
It further appealed to the government to apprise the public of the steps it is taking to ensure that such cyberattacks do not recur.
“…the public should be fully informed of all the steps being taken to identify the culprits behind these cyber-attacks and to secure our telecommunication channels to prevent such an attack in the future.”
News media is in a crisis & only you can fix it
You are reading this because you value good, intelligent and objective journalism. We thank you for your time and your trust.
You also know that the news media is facing an unprecedented crisis. It is likely that you are also hearing of the brutal layoffs and pay-cuts hitting the industry. There are many reasons why the media’s economics is broken. But a big one is that good people are not yet paying enough for good journalism.
We have a newsroom filled with talented young reporters. We also have the country’s most robust editing and fact-checking team, finest news photographers and video professionals. We are building India’s most ambitious and energetic news platform. And we aren’t even three yet.
At ThePrint, we invest in quality journalists. We pay them fairly and on time even in this difficult period. As you may have noticed, we do not flinch from spending whatever it takes to make sure our reporters reach where the story is. Our stellar coronavirus coverage is a good example. You can check some of it here.
This comes with a sizable cost. For us to continue bringing quality journalism, we need readers like you to pay for it. Because the advertising market is broken too.
If you think we deserve your support, do join us in this endeavour to strengthen fair, free, courageous, and questioning journalism, please click on the link below. Your support will define our journalism, and ThePrint’s future. It will take just a few seconds of your time.