Pegasus Farce Came Undone In The Supreme Court

by Ujjawal Mishra - Aug 25, 2022 07:58 PM +05:30 IST
Pegasus Farce Came Undone In The Supreme CourtThe Supreme Court (Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

An SC-appointed panel has concluded that Pegasus spyware's presence can't be established on the devices examined.

The expert committee was constituted to investigate the allegations of misuse of Pegasus spyware.

  • It was alleged that the spyware was used to target nearly 300 Indians, including politicians, government servants, journalists, and others.

  • Headed by former SC Justice RV Raveendran, the expert technical committee to look into claims included Alok Joshi (former IPS Officer) and Dr Sundeep Oberoi, Chair, ISO/IEC JTC1/SC7.

  • The panel submitted its report to the apex court in July.

  • A certain malware was detected in five mobile phones out of the 29 examined.

  • "It cannot be said to be Pegasus," remarked the bench of Chief Justice N V Ramana and justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli.

What's Pegasus? It's highly advanced spyware that can gain access to someone’s cell phone after the user clicks on a link sent by the spyware or even with a missed call.

  • After the link click, Pegasus begins to contact control servers that allow the Israeli spyware to send commands to gather data from the infected device.

  • Pegasus can allegedly steal passwords, contacts, text messages, calendar information, as well as voice and video calls made through WhatsApp, and even track live location.

The controversy erupted in July 2021 when the online left-wing website The Wire published a report alleging that the Government of India had engaged in mass surveillance.

  • The phone numbers of the targets of electronic surveillance by government agencies were apparently on a leaked list accessed by Amnesty International and the French non-profit Forbidden Stories.

  • The detractors of the Modi government went all out, shouting death of democracy and arrival of fascism in India.

Then came the judiciary: Multiple petitions were filed in the apex court calling for an investigation into the allegations.

  • Petitioners included the former union minister Yashwant Sinha, CPM MP John Brittas, SC advocate ML Sharma, the Editors' Guild of India, and individual journalists.

  • The SC, in its order, set up an enquiry panel.

Farce ab initio: The opposition's hit-and-run policy was on display, as, beyond creating a ruckus, they weren't interested in justice.

  • The expert committee issued a public notice on 2 January 2022 calling on all who suspected their mobile devices to have been hacked, infected, or compromised by Pegasus software to contact the panel.

  • More than a month after this notice, only two members submitted their mobile devices to the committee, one of them J Gopikrishnan, a correspondent for The Pioneer.

  • If the assault on privacy was severe, why was there such a tepid response to the investigation?

Inconsistencies! Things didn't add up in The Wire's exposé.

  • The phrase "potential targets of surveillance" was used in the opening sentence of the report. Why the uncertainty if the allegation was as serious as claimed?

  • The so-called "leaked list" was nowhere to be found.

  • In the Pegasus case, there was nothing — no list, no phones, no proof of government snooping, and certainly no third-party corroboration.

Why the story? The Pegasus story is an exercise in narrative-building.

  • It paints the usual suspects as the wounded party and heightens their public image of victimhood. The opposition is trying to generate sympathy.

  • It paints Israelis and ‘Hindu-majoritarians’ as a sinister lot hell bent on using nefarious methods to bring down a noble, activist edifice.

  • It puts further pressure on intelligence agencies seeking to unravel the cross-border nature of modern, global, electronically funded activism.

Bottom line: Now that the opposition stands exposed, their strategy of mudslinging is going to further erode their credibility.

  • In place of a solid, issue-based opposition, India has this sorry lot which resorts to planting baseless stories.

  • Now that the Pegasus scandal has turned out to be gas, the noise-makers must answer why they wasted the Parliament's time over a non-issue.

Ujjawal Mishra is a Staff Writer at Swarajya. He tweets @Ujjawal1Mishra.
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