Rights

Pegasus: Targeted Activists, Lawyers Write Open Letter to Govt on Cyber Attack

"Such widespread surveillance produces a chilling effect on the entire society and goes against every grain of our democratic tradition of a free exchange of ideas and expressions,“ the letter reads.

New Delhi: The group of 19 journalists, human rights activists and writers who were targeted by a spyware developed by Israeli company NSO Group have written a letter to the government, asking it to reveal all information it has about the cyber attack, other methods of mass surveillance, as well as the identity of the suspects.

WhatsApp had told the Indian government that 121 people were targeted by Pegasus in India through the vulnerability. The spyware, named Pegasus, was used to hack into any phone through a missed call via WhatsApp, giving the attackers full access to the device – including location data, emails, passwords and the ability to switch on the camera and microphone.

Also read: Israeli Spyware: India Turns to WhatsApp For Answers, But What Should We Really Be Asking?

“The knowledge that we have all been under surveillance by an unknown entity and that our intimate details, personal conversations, financial transactions etc. were being spied upon is deeply disturbing,” said the signatories to the letter. “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.”

“Indeed, such widespread surveillance produces a chilling effect on the entire society and goes against every grain of our democratic tradition of a free exchange of ideas and expressions,“ they added.

The group demanded an answer from the government about whether it was aware of any contract between any state government or central ministry with the NSO group.

“If so, 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,” they wrote.

Also read: Indian Activists, Lawyers Were ‘Targeted’ Using Israeli Spyware Pegasus

“The fact that international private corporations, among other foreign players, have penetrated all levels of our telecommunication channels, and have the ability to access the most intimate details of so many Indian citizens, threatens our national sovereignty,” they wrote.

Above all, it is the job of a “responsible government” to ensure the security of all its citizens, the group added.

On October 30, the Centre had asked WhatsApp to explain the nature of the breach and the steps taken to protect Indian users by November 4. In response, the Facebook-owned messaging platform attached both a vulnerability note filed in May and a letter it sent to the government in September in which it reportedly alerted the Centre about the hacking.

Nihalsing Rathod, among the first people to talk publicly about his device being targeted by Pegasus malware, told MediaNama that the signatories “know 30-40 senior, dedicated lawyers in Delhi with whom we are associated in different capacities. All of us will decide together what needs to be done legally.”

The signatories include activists Degree Prasad Chouhan, Shalini Gera, Bela Bhatia and Seema Azad.