Fresh allegations of snooping in India using the Pegasus spyware developed by an Israeli company, which reportedly sells only to government agencies around the world, have raised quite a stink. The alleged victims include Cabinet ministers, opposition politicians, judges, journalists and businessmen. Coming at the start of the monsoon session of Parliament, government, despite refuting any involvement, will have many uncomfortable questions to answer.
The capabilities of the spyware include just about every functionality that a user performs on his or her cellphone. It can surreptitiously extract contact lists and call logs, read SMS and other text messages, turn on the camera, and more worryingly perform file management operations that can be even used to plant evidence. The existence of companies like NSO Group, which claim legitimacy by working with governments, is just as worrying as rogue hackers attacking governments.
A rising international laxity in governmental regard for democratic proprieties calls for a global audit of such companies and greater civil society activism. Domestically, India must revive discourse on judicial and legislative accountability when it comes to surveillance of its own citizens. The current bureaucratic safeguards must be reviewed. Democracy can wither from within. With more tools like Pegasus out there, it must be safeguarded even more strongly.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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