Israeli surveillance company NSO Group, which sells Pegasus spyware worldwide, has refused the media reports that they have put on surveillance, phones of current Indian cabinet ministers, opposition leaders, businessmen and journalists among others.
A report published by an Indian online news portal on Sunday, 18 July, revealed that Israel-made spyware Pegasus was believed to have been used to snoop on at least 300 Indian phone numbers, including those of over 40 senior journalists, opposition leaders, government officials and rights activists.
The report published by The Wire, said that the ‘leaked data includes the numbers of top journalists at big media houses like the Hindustan Times, including executive editor Shishir Gupta, India Today, Network18, The Hindu and Indian Express’.
According to the news report, while the presence of the numbers in the list does not confirm that the device was ‘infected with Pegasus or subject to an attempted hack’, the Pegasus Project “believes” that the list included potential targets who might have been identified in advance for possible surveillance attempts.
According to The Wire, an independent forensic analysis of 10 Indian phones from the list showed that they were either hacked or attempted to have been hacked by Pegasus.
On the other side, NSO Group said that its technology was sold only to carefully vetted customers and used to prevent terrorism and crime. NSO Group said that it respected human rights unequivocally and also conducted a thorough evaluation of the potential for misuse of its products by clients, which includes a review of a country’s past human rights record and governance standards. The company further added that it believed the allegations of misuse of its products were based on “erroneous information”.
Back in late 2019, when the Pegasus spyware scandal was at its peak, the NSO Group said in a statement: “In the strongest possible terms, we dispute today’s allegations and will vigorously fight them. Our technology is not designed or licensed for use against human rights activists and journalists.”
On Sunday evening, NSO Group in the statement to the Guardian called its report — titled The Pegasus Project — an attempt to discredit NSO Group on false grounds. “NSO does not operate the systems that it sells to vetted government customers, and does not have access to the data of its customers’ targets,” the company noted in its lengthy statement to the British news website.