Israel, India and spyware

A stunning series of collaborative reports on a software used by several governments to hack the phones of politicians, government officials, journalists and rights activists around the world came out over the weekend. Forbidden Stories, The Washington Post, The Guardian, Le Monde, and over a dozen other news outlets collaborated on an investigation into leaked documents, showing how Israeli firm NSO Group sold spyware to governments, including a few that still do not officially recognise Israel. India was among the countries that hacked people left, right, and centre. The targets included Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, Indian National Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, and several leading Indian and foreign journalists, politicians, and diplomats.

The reports suspect over 1,000 Indian phone numbers and hundreds of Pakistani numbers were compromised by the Pegasus spyware, which can access most of the basic data on a phone — along with the camera and microphone — sometimes without the victim even interacting with infected links or apps. Although it appears Imran’s phone was hacked before he became prime minister and that he no longer uses that number, the audacity of the Indian regime is shocking. Even if we ignore the hacking attempt on Imran, since India would regard him as a political leader in a rival country, the hacks of Indians clearly illustrate the authoritarian tendencies of the Modi government.

Democratic governments stand up for the privacy rights of their citizens, at least the law-abiding ones. They do not hack their opponents or journalists who expose their crimes. They just focus on good governance and avoiding crimes. Unfortunately, both of those have proven to be impossible for Modi and his inner circle. “This is clearly treason and total abdication of national security by the Modi government, more so when the foreign company could possibly have access to this data,” said the Congress party, adding, “This is an unforgivable sacrilege and negation of constitutional oath by the home minister and the prime minister.”

That statement came before the revelation that Modi was even spying on his own ministers, revealing that authoritarianism has been coupled with paranoia. Modi’s government has flatly denied it used Pegasus. Home Minister Amit Shah even accused the government’s opponents of amplifying the report to humiliate India on the world stage, as if Modi and Shah needed any help in embarrassing India.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 21st, 2021.

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