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A Guide to the NSO Group’s Pegasus Spyware in India

Over 300 Indians including journalists, activists, politicians, bureaucrats, and businessmen have been (potentially) targetted by the NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware that is only sold to sovereign states, The Wire and a consortium of 16 other news organisations led by Forbidden Stories reported on July 18, 2021. However, the issue can be traced back to a 2019 report by the Financial Times which revealed that attackers had exploited a vulnerability in WhatsApp to inject malicious code on the devices of users. This malware that had been developed by a secretive Israeli company called NSO Group came to be known as Pegasus.

In terms of capability, Pegasus can not only intercept communications sent to and from a device (before encryption) but also remotely trigger a phone’s camera and microphone to record activity, use GPS functions to track location, and can even be used to plant fake evidence.

Despite its evasive remarks in Parliament and elsewhere, the Indian government has long been suspected of being an NSO client. The scale and nature of surveillance it has embarked upon, and the targets it seems to have picked, don’t appear to indicate national security concerns or organised crime dealings — for which surveillance is usually sanctioned. Here are the key points and related coverage that will help you get a deeper understanding of the issue at hand.

Key reading material on NSO Group’s Pegasus

  • All you need to know about NSO Group and its Pegasus spyware [Read here]
  • Pegasus spyware: All the latest facts on who was targetted, the modus operandi, and more [Read here]

Pegasus Project Issue 2019

Legal Challenges

  • WhatsApp sues NSO Group, Israeli spyware company tries to get WhatsApp lawsuit dismissed [Read here] [View MediaNama’s discussion]
  • Amnesty sues Israeli Defence Ministry over Pegasus in May 2019, Israeli Court rejects lawsuit [Read here & here]

The fallout in India

  • Indian victims targetted by Pegasus write two open letters demanding answers from the government [Read here & here]
  • RSS ideologue files petition in Supreme Court accusing WhatsApp of perjury because of Pegasus but SC dismisses it [Read here & here]

Responses from Government

  • Home Ministry gives no information to RTI asking if it bought Pegasus Spyware [Read here]
  • RS Prasad gives details of critical communications between MeitY and WhatsApp in Parliament [Read here & here]
  • ‘Government has no access to WhatsApp data, voice messages,’ MeitY says in Lok Sabha [Read here]

Pegasus Project Issue 2021

Who was targetted?

  • Karnataka politicians, aides were chosen for Pegasus surveillance amid political turmoil in 2019 [Read here]
  • NITI Aayog and PMO officials along with Delhi CM Kejriwal’s aide [Read here]
  • World leaders, ambassadors, and diplomats in India were on the radar too [Read here]
  • Anil Ambani and 18 other business executives from Reliance, Jet Airways, and LIC [Read here & here]
  • Several army officers, intelligence sleuths, and a senior Enforcement Directorate official [Read here]
  • A former Supreme Court judge, court staff, and lawyers who represented Nirav Modi and Christian Michel [Read here]

Reactions: Who said what

  • Members Of Parliament react to Pegasus Spyware exposé, Rahul Gandhi says revelations amount to treason [Read here & here]
  • ‘Illegal and deplorable’: How Pegasus Spyware targets in India are reacting [Read here]
  • Editors Guild of India demands probe over Pegasus reports while Reporters Without Borders mulls filing lawsuits against NSO [Read here & here]

Indian Government and NSO respond to allegations

  • In his Lok Sabha address, the IT Minister doesn’t deny using Pegasus; but the government has a history of making such unclear statements [Read here & here]
  • Everything that the NSO Group has said so far on the allegations against Pegasus [Read here]


All the petitions filed before the Supreme Court

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  • Advocate ML Sharma is first in line to file a petition that demands a court-monitored probe, MP John Brittas follows suit [Read here & here]
  • Editors N Ram, Sashi Kumar, and the Editors Guild of India file petitions centred on the spyware’s use [Read here & here]
  • Journalists Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, Rupesh Kumar Singh, and Ipsa Shatakshi file petitions questioning the constitutionality of Pegasus surveillance [Read here & here]
  • ADR co-founder Jagdeep Chhokar* files petition seeking action against officers responsible for surveillance [Read here]
  • In a Supreme Court hearing of Pegasus petitions, an advocate says that using the spyware constitutes war by a government against its own citizens [Read here]

International developments 

  • Amazon Web Services shuts down infrastructure linked to Pegasus vendor NSO Group [Read here]
  • Israeli government officials “visit” the NSO Group office and the next day, NSO temporarily blocks several government clients from using its technology [Read here & here]
  • In a first, French intelligence corroborates the findings of the Pegasus Project [Read here]

More on Pegasus and Surveillance

  • How do we rein in State surveillance? Here’s what experts had to say [Read here]
  • A decade-old bill had proposed to regulate surveillance by government agencies and this is what it said [Read here]

Views on surveillance reform and future steps

  • Nikhil Pahwa: The Pegasus exposé is a wake-up call for how a surveillance culture reduces public trust [read]
  • Apar Gupta and Vrinda Bhandari: Official response to Pegasus must be clearer. Plus, the system of authorising surveillance is flawed [read]
  • Anushka Jain and Tanmay Singh: Surveillance reform is the need of the hour [read]
  • Pranesh Prakash: Intelligence gathering needs to be professionalised, parliamentary oversight introduced, and liberties and laws protected [read]
  • Edward Snowden calls for spyware trade ban amid Pegasus revelations [read]
  • Pallavi Bedi: Understanding the efficacy of the proposed Personal Data Protection Bill is crucial in regards to entrenched networked surveillance [read]

*Disclaimer: Jagdeep Chhokar is related to Nikhil Pahwa, the founding editor of MediaNama.

We will keep updating this guide with more resources and developments related to Pegasus. 

Written By

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.



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