Over 500 individuals and groups have written to Chief Justice of India (CJI) N V Ramana seeking immediate intervention of the Supreme Court in the alleged Pegasus snooping matter and declare a “moratorium on the export, sale, transfer and use of Pegasus” spyware in the country.
The letter urged the top court to direct the Centre and the Israeli firm NSO to provide a time-bound answers to the several questions regarding the state-sponsored cyber-warfare that has been waged against Indian citizens, given the revelations of the Pegasus Project, an international collaborative investigation being conducted by several international media and research organisations.
They have expressed shock over media reports that the spyware was used for surveillance of women students, academics, journalists, human rights defenders, lawyers and victims of sexual violence, it said.
“The Pegasus spyware investigation has unveiled how its military grade malware installed on the phones of those targeted converts the device for use by a consumer to an object that spies on the individual, steals data and transmits data to unknown persons/databases. This has been defined as cyber warfare by experts in the field and it is nothing less than an act of state sponsored cyber terrorism against individuals,” the letter said.
It also referred to the issue of alleged snooping on the apex court official who had raised allegations of sexual harassment against then Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi.
“For women, the Pegasus scandal is deeply concerning, for speaking out against the state and men in positions of state power has meant that their lives are wrecked by such surveillance permanently. Human rights defenders have been imprisoned, and victims of sexual harassment have also not been spared such shocking forms of state sponsored cyber-crimes, which are analogous to digital forms of state terror,” it said.
The letter said the Pegasus software is sold only to governments, ostensibly for ‘national security’ and ‘counter-terrorism” purposes. “The Indian list of targets indicates that the software was used, not to counter terrorism, but to gather information on, and perhaps thereby seek to control, opposition politicians, the judiciary, the Press, as well as activists and others in civil society,” it said.
The letter has been signed by various activists including Aruna Roy, Anjali Bhardwaj, Harsh Mander; scholars and eminent lawyers like Vrinda Grover, Jhuma Sen among others.
An international media consortium has reported that over 300 verified Indian mobile phone numbers were on a list of potential targets for surveillance using Pegasus spyware.