Israeli spyware Pegasus involved in framing Indian activist
Rona Wilson’s case, a currently jailed Indian activist, shows how far-reaching and devastating the Israeli spyware’s effect could be.
As we near the end of 2021, the Israeli NSO Group does not seem interested in remaining away from scandalous affairs, as new evidence points out to their malicious spyware Pegasus as an instrumental tool in possibly framing Indian activist Rona Wilson.
A recent forensic analysis of the activist’s phone, conducted by Amnesty International, revealed that it was infected with NSO’s Pegasus between July 2017 and March 2018, merely three months ahead of his arrest.
Rona Wilson is a renowned activist who advocates for the rights of indigenous communities and low-caste citizens and is a vocal critic of India’s PM Narendra Modi’s policies. Alongside a group of lawyers, writers, and artists, Wilson has been detained since 2018 on terror-related charges, chiefly among them is “plotting to assassinate” Modi.
The evidence used to incriminate the group was planted on laptops used by the activists, as revealed by research conducted by Arsenal Consulting, a digital forensic science firm.
Furthermore, the investigation led by Amnesty found that Wilson’s phone was targeted with 15 malicious messages with links to install Pegasus with the aim of compromising the device.
“This case adds to the evidences revealed during the Pegasus Project about unlawful surveillance against human rights defenders in India using NSO Group’s products,” said Etienne Maynie, a technologist at Amnesty International’s Security Lab.
The activist's phone number was previously found among some 50,000 phone numbers in the list of targets for the software, which was published earlier this year. The phones in question were forensically examined by Amnesty International's Security Lab.
Wilson’s case shows how far-reaching and devastating the Israeli spyware’s effect could be, as it is being handled by some of the world’s most notorious and censorious governments to crack on rights activists and dissidents: Modi’s Hindu nationalist government is a prime example.
The spyware is being bought directly from NSO and was used by 44 different countries aside from India, which targeted tens of thousands of individuals using Pegasus.
The Indian government refused to deny or confirm its usage of the Israeli spyware, citing “national security” as a pretext.
India’s Supreme Court ordered in October an independent investigation into the possible government’s use of Pegasus on political opposition figures, with the chief justice describing the implications as “Orwellian”.
NSO's role in aiding countries known to engage in citizen surveillance first surfaced in an investigation led by The Washington Post and 16 media partners.
The military-grade spyware leased by the Israeli firm to governments was used in attempted and successful hacks of 37 smartphones belonging to journalists, human rights activists, business executives, and the two women closest to the murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Following these scrutinous revelations, the US decided to blacklist NSO, saying in a statement via the US Commerce Department: "Pegasus enabled foreign governments to conduct translational repression, which is the practice of authoritarian governments targeting dissidents, journalists, and activists outside of their sovereign borders to silence dissent."