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Pegasus Spyware: How Damning Are The Revelations of the NYT Report?

The report states that the sale of the spyware was part of a weapons and intelligence deal worth roughly $2 billion.

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The Pegasus spyware is under the spotlight again with an investigative report by the NYT published on Friday, 28 January, which claims that the Indian government purchased the controversial cyber-weapon, as the NYT puts it, in 2017 as part of a larger arms deal with Israel.

The NYT report states that the two countries agreed on the sale of the spyware in part of a weapons and intelligence deal worth roughly $2 billion in July 2017 when PM Modi visited Israel.

It also notes that since this visit, India’s stance on some of its policies like commitment to the Palestinian cause changed, citing India’s vote in support of Israel at the UN Economic and Social Council to deny observer status to a Palestinian human rights organization.

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And this development is big because, till now, neither the Indian government nor the Israeli government have openly confirmed or denied the sale of the software to India—something which the Israeli Defence Ministry would have had to give a licence for, even though it was made by a private entity.

The Centre has, to date, also refused to take a clear stand in court or the Parliament on whether it has acquired or used the spyware.

The revelations in the NYT are of particular interest after the reports by a consortium of media organisations around the world in July 2021, the Pegasus Project reported its use. These reports were based on a list of potential targets of the spyware, some of which were confirmed by forensic analysis.

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In India, the list of potential targets included prominent politicians, an Election Commissioner, 40 Indian journalists and several private citizens. Independent forensic analysis has been able to confirm the presence of the spyware on the phones of several of these targets.

The Opposition has lashed out against the Centre, with senior Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, who was reportedly one of the targets of the spyware, saying that the government has committed an act of treason.

So, how damaging are the revelations of this report? How will it fare in court? And how will this change the probe into the use of the spyware?

To unpack this, I’m joined today by Vakasha Sachdev, The Quint’s Legal Editor.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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