On Sunday evening, several news websites reported that the Indian government is among the 10 governments that are involved in surveillance of people using Israel-made spyware, Pegasus, which is believed to have targeted 40 Indian journalists from big media houses. 

Following this, the Indian government issued a statement categorically denying using Pegasus.

“The story being crafted is one that is not only bereft of facts but also founded in pre-conceived conclusions. It seems you are trying to play the role of an investigator, prosecutor as well as jury. Considering the fact that answers to the queries posed have already been in public domain for a long time, it also indicates poorly conducted research and lack of due diligence by the esteemed media organisations involved,” the statement said. 

“Government of India’s response to a Right to Information application about the use of Pegasus has been prominently reported by media and is in itself sufficient to counter any malicious claims about the alleged association between the Government of India and Pegasus,” the statement added.

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The government went on to say that “there has been no unauthorised interception by Government agencies.”

“It is important to note that Government agencies have a well-established protocol for interception, which includes sanction and supervision from highly ranked officials in central & state governments, for clear stated reasons only in national interest,” the statement said. 

In 2019, some WhatsApp users, including journalists and activists, received messages from the social media app telling them that Pegasus compromised their phones.

Speaking about the same in the statement, the government said,  “In the past, similar claims were made regarding the use of Pegasus on WhatsApp by Indian State. Those reports also had no factual basis and were categorically denied by all parties, including WhatsApp in the Indian Supreme Court. This news report, thus, also appears to be a similar fishing expedition, based on conjectures and exaggerations to malign the Indian democracy and its institutions.”

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Pegasus, developed by Israeli company NSO Group, first made it to the headlines in 2016, when an Arab activist got suspicious after receiving a shady message. It was then believed that the spyware was targeting iPhone users. Days later, Apple released an updated version of iOS, which patched the security loophole that Pegasus was reportedly using to hack phones.