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In Pegasus battle, the fight for surveillance reform

  • Published
    22nd Jul, 2022

Context:

Supreme Court will hear the issue involving the alleged use of Pegasus spyware software. Last year, a group of 17 journalists from around the world released a list saying that the Union government used malware to spy on numerous famous persons.

What is Pegasus?

  • Pegasus is a spyware developed by the Israeli firm NSO Group that helps spies break into phones.
  • In 2019, when WhatsApp sued the company in a US court, the matter came to light.
  • In July 2021, Amnesty International, along with 13 media outlets worldwide, released a report on how spyware was used to track hundreds of individuals, including Indians.
  • While NSO claims its spyware is only sold to governments, none of the nations has come forward to accept these requests.

Concern related to Pegasus:

  • Violation of privacy: The very existence of a surveillance system, whether under statutory provisions or not, has an impact on the right to privacy under Article 21 and the exercise of freedom of expression under Article 19.
  • Restricting dissidents: Reflects a worrying trend regarding the use of hacking software against dissidents and opponents. In 2019, Pegasus software was also used to hack HR & Dalit activists.
  • Individual Security: In the absence of privacy, the security of journalists, especially those whose work criticizes the government, and the personal security of their sources are at risk.
  • Self-censorship: A persistent fear of being spied on can plague an individual. This can affect their ability to express, accept and discuss such ideas.
  • State-sponsored mass surveillance: Spyware coupled with AI can manipulate digital content on users' smartphones. This in turn can polarize their opinion from remote controllers.
  • National Security: Potential abuse or proliferation has the same, if not more, consequences as advanced nuclear technology falling into the wrong hands.
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