On Friday, a host of individuals targeted by the Pegasus spyware wrote an open letter to the Modi government. Read it below:
Open Letter to the Government of India from Pegasus Targeted Persons
We, the undersigned, have all received messages from WhatsApp Inc. over the last fortnight, informing us that our mobile devices were the target by a highly sophisticated cyberattack. According to this message, an attempt was made to send spyware to our electronic devices through the WhatsApp video calling service, highly compromising our digital security.
WhatsApp attributes this attack to a malicious spyware called Pegasus which is the flagship product of the Israeli based NSO group and its parent company Q Cyber Technologies.
This spyware is amongst the most sophisticated spywares available on the market, and once installed on the device without the user’s knowledge, makes all of its contents completely accessible to a remote operator, including passwords, contact lists, call logs, text messages, voice calls etc. This malware allows the operator to stealthily turn on the phone’s camera and microphone and capture the real time activity in the immediate environment of the device.
We are all journalists, lawyers, academics, writers, social & cultural activists, students and other professionals, drawn from different parts of India. We have been engaged in various spheres of Indian civil society. The knowledge that we have all been under surveillance by an unknown entity and that our intimate details, personal conversations, financial transactions, etc. were being spied upon is deeply disturbing. This violates our fundamental right of privacy, and compromises not only our security, but also of those in our extended network of family, friends, colleagues, clients, sources etc. Indeed, such widespread surveillance produces a chilling effect on the entire society and goes against every grain of our democratic tradition of a free exchange of ideas and expressions.
As affected persons and concerned citizens, we appeal to the Government of India to reveal whatever information it has about this cyber attack, other similar methods of mass surveillance and the identity of the concerned players. It is a matter of public concern whether Indian tax payer money has been spent on this kind of cyber surveillance requiring the expenditure of crores of rupees and a vast infrastructure of information technology. The fact that international private corporations, among other foreign players, have penetrated all levels of our telecommunication channels, and have the ability to access the most intimate details of so many Indian citizens, threatens our national sovereignty.
It is in this context that we seek an answer from the Government of India about whether it was aware of any contract between any of its various ministries, departments, agencies, or any State Government, and the NSO group or any of its contractors to deploy Pegasus or related malware for any operations within India? If so, then the details of such a contract, including its total value and the contracting agencies should be placed in the public domain, including information regarding the monitoring and oversight to which these operations have been subjected in order to prevent their abuse. And if indeed, the Government of India had no information of any such surveillance, then the public should be fully informed of all the steps being taken to identify the culprits behind these cyber-attacks and to secure our telecommunication channels to prevent such an attack in the future.
An engaged and informed citizenry needs to have full knowledge about the legal regime that governs its right to privacy, and a responsible government must ensure the digital security of all its citizens.
Balla Ravindra Nath
Degree Prasad Chouhan
Contact Details For Any Communication:
Postal Address - Pegasus Targeted Persons, c/o Internet Freedom Foundation, E-215 Third Floor, East of Kailash, New Delhi 110065
Email Address - firstname.lastname@example.org