The claims of phone hacking have reignited criticism of the Modi government’s surveillance policies | Science & Technology News

The claims of phone hacking have reignited criticism of the Modi government’s surveillance policies | Science & Technology News

Neville Lazarus
India reporter and producer @nevilleskynews

Phone hacking allegations revive criticism of surveillance by Modi government
Data leaked to human rights organisations suggests the phones of journalists and opposition leaders were hacked by the Indian government.

Monday 19 July 2021 12:41, UK
India
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi
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Indian prime minister Narendra Modi has been accused of hacking his government’s critics

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A furore has broken out in India over allegations that government agencies snooped on the phones of ministers, opposition leaders, judges, human rights activists, lawyers, businessmen and journalists.

An international collaboration known as the “Pegasus Project” by news and human rights organisations has alleged that multiple governments across the world hired an Israeli surveillance technology firm to hack into the phones of their critics.

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The NSO Group, which sells the Pegasus spyware, refutes all accusations of wrongdoing and says its clients are legitimate governments and intelligence agencies who use its technology to tackle terrorism and serious crime.

The latest snooping scandal has revived criticism of the alleged use of state machinery under India’s nationalist prime minister Narendra Modi to silence his critics.

More than 300 mobile phone numbers are said to have been hacked by Indian government agencies, according to the investigation by France-based journalism collective Forbidden Stories, Amnesty International, and their media partners.

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This hacking is believed to be prohibited by India’s Telegraph and Information Technology Law. Pegasus: Governments using spyware on journalists, politicians and human rights activists – reports
Pegasus: Governments using spyware on journalists, politicians and human rights activists – reports
Among the targets were journalists at The Wire, an online news publication in India which investigated how Mr Modi’s government was spreading disinformation over Facebook.

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Sushant Singh, one of the journalists whose phone is believed to have been targeted, told The Wire: “If true, is a violation of privacy which goes against the Supreme Court ruling. “Secondly, it compromises a journalist’s ability to report on matters of grave national importance in sensitive areas, particularly which require speaking truth to power.

“It creates an environment of fear and intimidation for both the journalist and her sources, placing them at grave risk,” Mr Singh added. Over the last few years human rights activists and journalists have come under attack by the Indian government, with many facing years of incarceration under stringent anti-terror laws.

Earlier this month, an 84-year-old human rights activist in India called Father Stan Swamy died in hospital. Mr Swamy had been arrested and denied bail multiple times on suspicion of ties to a banned radical leftist group, which he denied.

The Indian government has rejected the allegations, stating: “India is a robust democracy that is committed to ensuring the right to privacy to all its citizens as a fundamental right. The allegations regarding government surveillance on specific people has no concrete basis or truth associated with it whatsoever.” The allegations have been raised on the first day of the monsoon session of parliament, with the opposition geared up to corner the government over the claims.

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