WEF spyware

Democracy under attack: Indian government’s alleged abuse of NSO Pegasus spyware

Access Now is outraged by today’s revelations that products sold by Israeli spyware firm, NSO, are allegedly being used to hack and invade the private communications of thousands of people across the globe. Notably, these developments reveal a shocking situation of state-sanctioned surveillance impunity in India. 

The surveillance company has repeatedly claimed that it only makes its services available to governments for use against criminals and terrorists, but evidence shows hundreds of Indians in its database, and traces of the Pegasus malware suite on journalists’ phones. The targets of this government-directed spyware campaign appear to be a broad swathe of figures in Indian public life, including members of the media, elected officials, the judiciary, and activists. This follows evidence demonstrating that malware was used to plant digital evidence on the activists’ devices.

“It’s all here in black and white,” said Natalia Krapiva, Tech Legal Counsel at Access Now. “NSO spyware is being used to hack and attack activists, journalists, and global changemakers. The message from the government seems to be: watch what you say, or you will be watched. Both the authorities and the company must be held accountable.”

Hacking is a crime in India, with no exception made if it is government-directed. At this time of rampant surveillance, the nation needs laws that protect personal data online. Instead, laws such as the new intermediary rules that expand the government’s surveillance powers, and put personal data at risk, are being implemented with urgency. 

“The Union Government must answer whether its agencies or any Indian security service has had dealings with NSO,” said Raman Jit Singh Chima, Asia Pacific Policy Director and Global Cybersecurity Lead at Access Now. “Previous statements have evaded the question, and vaguely asserted that safeguards are followed to avoid overboard surveillance. This is clearly not the case. The largest democracy in the world cannot be at the mercy of a shady, private company.”

The people of the world’s second largest internet user base have few secure spaces to communicate; the rising threat to the privacy and security of online communication further fosters an environment of fear and mistrust.

India’s environment of surveillance must end. Access Now calls for answers via inquiries independent of the executive branch, and immediate action in parliament and the courts, to tighten the broken legal system governing surveillance across the nation.