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The Pegasus Project and the question of Ethics

  • Category
  • Published
    2nd Aug, 2021


Recently, it has been reported that Pegasus, the malicious software, has allegedly been used to secretly monitor and spy on an extensive host of public figures in India.


What is Pegasus?

  • It is a type of malicious software or malware classified as spyware.
  • Designed to access devices, without user information, and collect personal information and retrieve it from anyone using spy software.
  • Pegasus was developed by the Israeli company NSO Group founded in 2010.
  • An old version of Pegasus, discovered by investigators in 2016, detected infected calls for so-called spears - a crime of identity theft - messages or emails that trick the target into clicking a bad link.
  • Since then, however, the NSO's attacking power has greatly improved. Pegasus infection can be detected by a so-called "zero-click" attack, which does not require contact from the phone owner to be successful.
  • This will usually exploit the “zero-day” weaknesses, which are bugs or bugs in the app that the mobile phone maker is unaware of and therefore could not fix.

Is it ethical to ethical to spy a friendly country to serve one’s national interests?

Spying or Espionage on friendly countries is unethical because it:

  • impinges on the Sovereignty of nation states
  • transgresses the Right to Privacy of individuals (e.g. Through proxies like social media and email snooping)
  • furthers vested interests often and destabilises governments (e.g. Some oil rich countries)
  • creates a trust deficit among allies and enemies alike (e.g. Between US-India due to NSA’s PRISM; US-Russia in Cold War)
  • can be used to seek political vendetta/leverage or cause massive harm

Spying can be ethical when:

  • Already facing a full scale war with friends turning foes (e.g.-I and II)
  • acting against a non-state actor that’s dangerous to global harmony and sheltering in a “friendly” state (eg.LeT, ISIS)
  • for regular security monitoring and within permissible limits (eg.RAW, CIA)

Spying without discretion, even in the name of protecting its people is unbecoming of an ethical state as the purpose can be rather met with collaborative intelligence gathering with friendly nations and through transparent yet secretive networks such as Interpol. Thus, espionage involves a thin line that’s rarely and “conditionally” ethical but never “absolutely” ethical.

Ethics of Surveillance

  • Monitoring simply places a person’s attention and / or caution. The emergence of a French word by looking at this word includes not only visual perception but also an examination of all behaviours, speech, and actions.
    • Outstanding examples of employment include surveillance cameras, phone calls, GPS tracking, and online surveillance.
  • These technological advances have had a profound effect on the morality of putting individuals under the scrutiny of our modern society.
  • Today many of our actions are visible, recorded, searchable, and even more closely monitored than ever before.

Surveillance projects in India

  • Central Monitoring System (CMS): A data collection system similar to the NSA’s PRISM program. It enables the Government of India to listen to phone conversations, intercept e-mails and text messages, monitor posts on social networking service and track searches on Google
  • DRDO NETRA: Network that is capable of tracking online communications on a real time basis by harvesting data from various voice-over-IP services, including Skype and Google Talk. It is operated by the Research and Analysis Wing.
  • NATGRID: An intelligence grid that links the databases of several departments and ministries of the Government of India.

Moral issues involved

  • Violation of privacy: - Monitoring is basically based on this principle as it involves collecting, viewing and collecting personal information without their consent. It is one of the most cherished and natural human rights.
  • Trust and independence: - As privacy is violated, people find it difficult to trust the government to protect their rights. It breeds mistrust between rulers and subjects. It impairs one's physical and emotional independence.
  • Reason for observation: - The purpose of the observation, or any other assurance of observation, may be the most important ethical question to be asked. Security may be the simplest answer but it has been observed and met by all that surveillance often has the illegal use associated with it.
  • Officer: - The preparation of the appointment, and in particular the cause of the surveillance, will depend on who is conducting the inspection. State security may be and must be conducted by the state intelligence agency with the assurance of ethical conduct but the consideration of private organizations for their benefit is inappropriate.


An unrestricted collection of electronic spying destroys civil liberties and creates dictatorial conditions. Even Edward Snow-den thinks of the same line. But the continued freedom of our society ultimately depends on our refusal to accept such a negative position, and our willingness to see that appropriate measurement action is needed. We must respect the work of our intelligence agencies that keep us safe, and be happy that in our democratic societies we are subject to the law and we must also ensure that the monitoring process is upheld and ethical.

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