The Pegasus scandal has rocked India’s Parliament. The issue of Israeli spyware allegedly used for snooping on thousands of private citizens has been making headlines for the past two weeks across the world and in some sections of the Indian media. Reports continue to appear in the media regarding Pegasus and its owner, the NSO Group of Israel.
The Opposition in India has demanded answers from the Narendra Modi government and taken a tough stand of “Pegasus first or none” in the monsoon session of Parliament. It is well understood that Pegasus is a technical issue that involves snooping on over 300 Indian citizens, including journalists, politicians and activists, and not as widespread a mass issue such as Covid mismanagement or farmers’ protests against the new agricultural laws. Nevertheless, it is still interesting to measure awareness and understanding of the Pegasus issue among India’s general population.
Prashnam conducted an all-India survey to precisely measure this. A total of 3,500 respondents were sampled in a stratified, randomised manner across 12 states – Bihar, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, West Bengal – covering 356 districts.
Two questions were asked.
1: Over the last few days, there has been news in the media about a certain “Pegasus” issue. What do you know about it?
A: I have not heard about it
B: Yes, I have heard of it. It is a new vaccine for Covid-19
C: Yes, I have heard of it. It is a spyware used to snoop on people’s phones
D: Do not want to answer
Those who knew about Pegasus were asked a follow-up question to check how serious they thought this issue was.
2: Do you think the Modi government has used Pegasus to spy on even ordinary citizens?
A: Yes, the Modi government snoops on ordinary citizens too using Pegasus
B: No, the Modi government does not snoop on ordinary citizens
C: I do not know
Also read: Indian targets showed up on Pegasus list after Modi’s 2017 Israel visit: Haaretz tech editor
Most not aware
Of those surveyed, only 15% of people are aware of Pegasus.
It is perhaps not surprising that a vast majority of people do not know what Pegasus is or the issue surrounding it. As we have seen repeatedly in past Prashnam surveys, Delhi media lives in its own cocoon and quite often, issues raised in Delhi do not reach the masses.
What is interesting is that even among those who claimed to know what Pegasus is, a greater percentage think it’s a new Covid-19 vaccine than a spyware. There is not much variation across states and even among the developed southern states, awareness and understanding of Pegasus is very small.
Also read: Most voters may not care about Pegasus but data is individual sovereignty too
Modi govt ‘snoops’ on citizens
Of the few respondents who knew about Pegasus, nearly 40% think that the Modi government uses the Israeli spyware to not just snoop on political leaders and journalists but even on ordinary citizens such as themselves. This shows that once people become aware of Pegasus, their distrust of the Modi government is quite high. Or perhaps, those that distrust the government are predominantly the ones who have paid closer attention to the Pegasus issue than the rest. Either way, Pegasus is still far removed from becoming a mass issue. But for the few who are aware of Pegasus, the snooping scandal is a serious issue.
Prashnam, in keeping with its principles of transparency and integrity, makes available the entire raw data of this survey here for analysts and researchers to verify and analyse further.
Rajesh Jain is founder, Prashnam, an AI technology start-up that aims to make opinion gathering more scientific, easy, fast, and affordable. He tweets @rajeshjain. Views are personal.
The article is part of ThePrint-Prashnam Vox Pop series.
This article has been updated to include the name of the 12 states that were surveyed.
(Edited by Prashant Dixit)