Pegasus Project: Where has the Indian government reached in a year's investigation of the claim of spyware use

Pegasus Project: Where has the Indian government reached in a year's investigation of the claim of spyware use  As of 18 July 2021, an international media consortium comprising 17 media organizations from around the world, including The Wire, under the Pegasus Project, reported mobile numbers that were monitored by Pegasus spyware or were potential surveillance targets. . There were many Indians in it too. The final report is yet to be given by the committee constituted by the Supreme Court to probe it.  Pegasus: With SC Committee Set to Submit Report Soon, Here’s What We Know About the Work It’s Done The expert committee is yet to submit a final report detailing its findings. The report will likely be handed over to the apex court before the end of this month.  New Delhi: Eight months after the Supreme Court constituted an expert committee to probe the purchase and use of military-grade spyware Pegasus by Indian law enforcement agencies, the committee is yet to submit its findings.  It is noteworthy that in 2021, an international media consortium, which included The Wire   , disclosed under the Pegasus Project that leaders, journalists, activists, Supreme Court officials around the world had been exposed through Pegasus spyware from Israel's NSO Group company. The phones were allegedly hacked and monitored or they were potential targets  .  In this episode, from 18 July 2021  , 17 media organizations around the world, including The Wire   , began publishing information on a database of more than 50,000 leaked mobile numbers that were being monitored through Pegasus spyware or were under potential surveillance. were in.  According to this investigation , 300 verified Indian numbers were found in a leaked list of thousands of telephone numbers of people of interest to clients of multiple governments, of NSO Group, an Israeli surveillance technology company, who were known to be ministers, opposition leaders, journalists, the judiciary. It has been used by people associated with, businessmen, government officials, rights activists etc.  Its possible targets in India included Congress leader  Rahul Gandhi , political strategist  Prashant Kishor , the then Election Commissioner Ashok Lavasa, now Information and Technology Minister Ashwini Vaishnav (he was not a minister at that time) along with several prominent  leaders  .  The technical probe included  the calls of two founding editors of The Wire   - Siddharth Varadajan and MK Venu - along with other journalists such as Sushant Singh, Paranjoy Guha Thakurta and SNM Abdi, late DU professor SAR Gilani, Kashmiri separatist leader Bilal Lone and lawyer Aljo P. Joseph. The Pegasus spyware was also confirmed to be available in  After the Pegasus project came to the fore, there was a big political controversy about it in the country and around the world. In India too, the Supreme Court on 27 October 2021 constituted an independent inquiry committee under the chairmanship of retired Justice RV Raveendran, after a dozen petitions were filed on allegations of alleged espionage by the Modi government .  While hearing the case at that time, CJI NV Ramana had said that the government cannot go away by saying national security all the time. The three-member technical committee includes Dr. Naveen Kumar Choudhary, Dean of the National Forensic Sciences University in Gandhinagar, Dr. Charhan P., Professor, Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, Kerala, and Ashwin Anil Gumaste, Professor, IIT Bombay.  Let us inform that NSO Group says that it sells this military grade spyware only to governments. The Indian government has neither denied nor confirmed the purchase of Pegasus.  In a hearing in May 2022, the inquiry committee headed by former Supreme Court judge Justice RV Raveendran submitted an interim report to the apex court. At that time, it was asked by the court to complete its investigation by June 20 .  According to information received by The Wire   , the committee is likely to submit its final report by the end of this month. The bench that ordered the probe was headed by CJI NV Ramana, who is due to retire on August 26.  What responsibilities were assigned to the committee In October 2021, the top court ordered an inquiry into the alleged use of Israeli spyware .  While constituting the committee, the Supreme Court said that privacy cannot be violated under the guise of national security. The court had expressed deep anguish over the central government not filing a proper affidavit in this case, saying that it is not enough to claim a threat to national security, it also has to be proved.   In short, the committee had to do three major things. The first was to find out whether Pegasus was used on the phones of Indian citizens and if so, the details of the people it was targeted.  Second, to verify whether Pegasus was purchased by any central or state agency and used against the citizens of the country.  And third, if it is found that any Indian agency actually used Pegasus, to investigate whether Pegasus was used with legal and official permission.  What has the committee done so far? Over the past eight months, the Pegasus investigative committee has worked in three different directions. These are:  1. Digital Forensics: The technical committee has collected 29 smartphones for analysis. These devices mostly belong to people who were potentially targeted by Pegasus. The committee has conducted a forensic examination of phones possibly being targeted by Pegasus or affected by Pegasus.  2. Recording of Statements: The panel has interviewed several expert witnesses, lawmakers and Pegasus targets. According to the committee's website , 13 people, including technical experts Anand V. and Sandeep Shukla, have testified. Others who have recorded statements include Siddharth Varadarajan, founding editor of The Wire, and Professor David Kaye. David was the UN Special Envoy on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Expression until the year 2020.  3. Contact with State Governments: Media reports suggest that the panel had contacted various state governments as well. For example, in April 2022, the committee asked the 'Director Generals of Police' of all states whether they had purchased spyware from the NSO group.  The Secretary General of the Supreme Court, citing the technical committee's questions, asked all the DGPs , 'Whether any state, state police, state intelligence or any state/union territory agency, which had Pegasus spyware, did any of India's Have also used it on civilian? If so, whether any permission or approval was obtained for such use. If yes, from whom?  The work of the committee that is not yet known Progress in some areas is documented in a fairly transparent manner on the website of the Pegasus Inquiry Committee , although the public is less aware of some other aspects, particularly in relation to the committee's interactions with the Narendra Modi government.  For example, it is not clear whether bureaucrats working with the Home Ministry, intelligence agencies and the Office of the National Security Adviser have been called to testify or make statements. If so, why was it not recorded on the website of the committee, when the statements of all the stakeholders of the civil society are clearly visible here.  Also it is unclear whether organizations such as the NSO Group or Citizen Lab (which published the first analysis of Pegasus activity in India in 2018) have been interviewed or collaborated to provide evidence. This point is particularly important as we do not know the exact methodology that is being used for forensic analysis of the phones collected by this technical committee.  The committee's website says it may use Amnesty International's MVT toolkit, but it still doesn't provide full details on how they would determine if a device was targeted with spyware or inserted Pegasus .  Finally, during a hearing of the apex court in 2021, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta had pointed out that due to national security concerns, the Modi government could not publicly disclose whether it had purchased Pegasus or not. However, he said that the government would share all the details with the committee.  In January 2022, the New York Times , after a year-long investigation, said in a report that the Indian government had bought Pegasus in 2017 as part of a $2 billion defense deal with Israel for arms purchases. The report said that the Israeli Defense Ministry had sold Pegasus to many countries including Poland, Hungary, India under new deals.  It is not clear what the committee will do if the Center does not answer questions, as it is not clear whether the inquiry committee has specific powers to summon documents or records.

As of 18 July 2021, an international media consortium comprising 17 media organizations from around the world, including The Wire, under the Pegasus Project, reported mobile numbers that were monitored by Pegasus spyware or were potential surveillance targets. . There were many Indians in it too. The final report is yet to be given by the committee constituted by the Supreme Court to probe it.

Pegasus: With SC Committee Set to Submit Report Soon, Here’s What We Know About the Work It’s Done
The expert committee is yet to submit a final report detailing its findings. The report will likely be handed over to the apex court before the end of this month.

New Delhi: Eight months after the Supreme Court constituted an expert committee to probe the purchase and use of military-grade spyware Pegasus by Indian law enforcement agencies, the committee is yet to submit its findings.

It is noteworthy that in 2021, an international media consortium, which included The Wire   , disclosed under the Pegasus Project that leaders, journalists, activists, Supreme Court officials around the world had been exposed through Pegasus spyware from Israel's NSO Group company. The phones were allegedly hacked and monitored or they were potential targets  .

In this episode, from 18 July 2021  , 17 media organizations around the world, including The Wire   , began publishing information on a database of more than 50,000 leaked mobile numbers that were being monitored through Pegasus spyware or were under potential surveillance. were in.

According to this investigation , 300 verified Indian numbers were found in a leaked list of thousands of telephone numbers of people of interest to clients of multiple governments, of NSO Group, an Israeli surveillance technology company, who were known to be ministers, opposition leaders, journalists, the judiciary. It has been used by people associated with, businessmen, government officials, rights activists etc.

Its possible targets in India included Congress leader  Rahul Gandhi , political strategist  Prashant Kishor , the then Election Commissioner Ashok Lavasa, now Information and Technology Minister Ashwini Vaishnav (he was not a minister at that time) along with several prominent  leaders  .

The technical probe included  the calls of two founding editors of The Wire   - Siddharth Varadajan and MK Venu - along with other journalists such as Sushant Singh, Paranjoy Guha Thakurta and SNM Abdi, late DU professor SAR Gilani, Kashmiri separatist leader Bilal Lone and lawyer Aljo P. Joseph. The Pegasus spyware was also confirmed to be available in

After the Pegasus project came to the fore, there was a big political controversy about it in the country and around the world. In India too, the Supreme Court on 27 October 2021 constituted an independent inquiry committee under the chairmanship of retired Justice RV Raveendran, after a dozen petitions were filed on allegations of alleged espionage by the Modi government .

While hearing the case at that time, CJI NV Ramana had said that the government cannot go away by saying national security all the time. The three-member technical committee includes Dr. Naveen Kumar Choudhary, Dean of the National Forensic Sciences University in Gandhinagar, Dr. Charhan P., Professor, Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, Kerala, and Ashwin Anil Gumaste, Professor, IIT Bombay.

Let us inform that NSO Group says that it sells this military grade spyware only to governments. The Indian government has neither denied nor confirmed the purchase of Pegasus.

In a hearing in May 2022, the inquiry committee headed by former Supreme Court judge Justice RV Raveendran submitted an interim report to the apex court. At that time, it was asked by the court to complete its investigation by June 20 .

According to information received by The Wire   , the committee is likely to submit its final report by the end of this month. The bench that ordered the probe was headed by CJI NV Ramana, who is due to retire on August 26.

What responsibilities were assigned to the committee
In October 2021, the top court ordered an inquiry into the alleged use of Israeli spyware .

While constituting the committee, the Supreme Court said that privacy cannot be violated under the guise of national security. The court had expressed deep anguish over the central government not filing a proper affidavit in this case, saying that it is not enough to claim a threat to national security, it also has to be proved.


In short, the committee had to do three major things. The first was to find out whether Pegasus was used on the phones of Indian citizens and if so, the details of the people it was targeted.

Second, to verify whether Pegasus was purchased by any central or state agency and used against the citizens of the country.

And third, if it is found that any Indian agency actually used Pegasus, to investigate whether Pegasus was used with legal and official permission.

What has the committee done so far?
Over the past eight months, the Pegasus investigative committee has worked in three different directions. These are:

1. Digital Forensics: The technical committee has collected 29 smartphones for analysis. These devices mostly belong to people who were potentially targeted by Pegasus. The committee has conducted a forensic examination of phones possibly being targeted by Pegasus or affected by Pegasus.

2. Recording of Statements: The panel has interviewed several expert witnesses, lawmakers and Pegasus targets. According to the committee's website , 13 people, including technical experts Anand V. and Sandeep Shukla, have testified. Others who have recorded statements include Siddharth Varadarajan, founding editor of The Wire, and Professor David Kaye. David was the UN Special Envoy on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Expression until the year 2020.

3. Contact with State Governments: Media reports suggest that the panel had contacted various state governments as well. For example, in April 2022, the committee asked the 'Director Generals of Police' of all states whether they had purchased spyware from the NSO group.

The Secretary General of the Supreme Court, citing the technical committee's questions, asked all the DGPs , 'Whether any state, state police, state intelligence or any state/union territory agency, which had Pegasus spyware, did any of India's Have also used it on civilian? If so, whether any permission or approval was obtained for such use. If yes, from whom?

The work of the committee that is not yet known
Progress in some areas is documented in a fairly transparent manner on the website of the Pegasus Inquiry Committee , although the public is less aware of some other aspects, particularly in relation to the committee's interactions with the Narendra Modi government.

For example, it is not clear whether bureaucrats working with the Home Ministry, intelligence agencies and the Office of the National Security Adviser have been called to testify or make statements. If so, why was it not recorded on the website of the committee, when the statements of all the stakeholders of the civil society are clearly visible here.

Also it is unclear whether organizations such as the NSO Group or Citizen Lab (which published the first analysis of Pegasus activity in India in 2018) have been interviewed or collaborated to provide evidence. This point is particularly important as we do not know the exact methodology that is being used for forensic analysis of the phones collected by this technical committee.

The committee's website says it may use Amnesty International's MVT toolkit, but it still doesn't provide full details on how they would determine if a device was targeted with spyware or inserted Pegasus .

Finally, during a hearing of the apex court in 2021, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta had pointed out that due to national security concerns, the Modi government could not publicly disclose whether it had purchased Pegasus or not. However, he said that the government would share all the details with the committee.

In January 2022, the New York Times , after a year-long investigation, said in a report that the Indian government had bought Pegasus in 2017 as part of a $2 billion defense deal with Israel for arms purchases. The report said that the Israeli Defense Ministry had sold Pegasus to many countries including Poland, Hungary, India under new deals.

It is not clear what the committee will do if the Center does not answer questions, as it is not clear whether the inquiry committee has specific powers to summon documents or records.
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