The phone numbers of over 40 Indian journalists appear on a leaked list of potential targets for surveillance, and forensic tests have confirmed that some of them were successfully snooped upon by an unidentified agency using Pegasus spyware, as per the report published in the Wire.
In 2019, WhatsApp, along with Canada-based Citizen Lab, alerted dozens of Indians who had been affected by a Pegasus attack that exploited a hole in the messaging app firm’s security. The security lab’s overarching methodology was peer-reviewed and endorsed by Citizen Lab.
According to reports, phones of two serving union ministers, three opposition leaders, and one constitutional authority, current and former heads of security organisations were also allegedly bugged using the Israel spy software Pegasus.
ANI quoted the government as having said in its response that, “The allegations regarding government surveillance on specific people have no concrete basis or truth associated with it whatsoever. Similar claims were made regarding the use of Pegasus on WhatsApp by the Indian State in the past. Those reports also had no factual basis and were categorically denied by all parties, including WhatsApp in the Indian Supreme Court”.
The phones of former Indian Express journalist Sushant Singh, former TV18 anchor Smita Sharma, former EPW editor Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, former Outlook journalist S.N.M. Abdi, the Hindu’s Vijaita Singh and the Wire’s two founding editors Siddharth Varadarajan and M.K. Venu was analysed.
The Wire’s founding editors, diplomatic editor and two regular contributors, including Rohini Singh appear on the list. Singh’s number features following the publication of her back-to-back reports on Amit Shah’s son, Jay Shah, and Nikhil Merchant, a businessman who is close to Narendra Modi. She was also investigating dealings of former minister Piyush Goyal, with businessman Ajay Piramal.
Former Indian Express journalist Sushant Singh was included in mid-2018, at a time when he was investigating the controversial Rafale aircraft deal. Digital forensics conducted on his current phone showed signs of Pegasus infection earlier this year.
The NSO Group that created the spyware has denied that the leaked list was linked in any way to the functioning of its software. In response to the Pegasus Project, NSO has said that people in the list were not targeted by the governments using Pegasus but were maybe a part of a larger list of numbers those other customers of theirs used for different purposes.