Pegasus Spyware: Phone spying in India, wave to Nepal

On the one hand, the news that India has spied on the phone of Nepal's ambassador along with China, Iran and Pakistan has raised concerns. On the other hand, in Nepal, the bill that allows the intelligence department to tap citizens' phones has been passed by the National Assembly and reached the House of Representatives, so the privacy of citizens is at risk. Controversy has erupted in India after the phone spying on politicians, constitutional commission officials, diplomats, journalists and human rights activists became public. The news that the phones of the ambassadors of China, Iran, Pakistan and Nepal in the Delhi mission have been hacked has made Nepal suspicious.

Controversy has erupted in India after the phone spying on politicians, constitutional commission officials, diplomats, journalists and human rights activists became public. The news that the phones of the ambassadors of China, Iran, Pakistan and Nepal in the Delhi mission have been hacked has made Nepal suspicious.

Pegasus, a spy software developed by the Israeli company NSO, has reportedly spied on about 50,000 phones worldwide. The NSO claims that the Pegasus was built to gather information on terrorist activity. But in India, it has been confirmed that the phone of a person active in public life was attacked by Pegasus.

News of phone spying from software in India has caused a stir, while diplomatic experts in Nepal are also concerned. Investigations have revealed that the ambassadors of Iran, Afghanistan, China, Saudi Arabia and Nepal to Delhi, along with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, were involved in spying.

Spying on the phone of any citizen or even diplomat is considered a serious crime. Diplomatic relations between the two countries erupted in 2015 after WikiLeaks revealed that the US National Security Agency had been tapping the phones of top officials, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, for decades. Meanwhile, the Government of Nepal has yet to clarify its response to the phone tapping of the Nepali Ambassador.

The Ministry of External Affairs has directed Ambassador to Delhi Nilambar Acharya to seek information from the Government of India on phone spying. “It simply came to our notice then. We have asked the embassy to understand the formal response of the Indian government, ”said a foreign official. Meanwhile, Ambassador Acharya said that even after reading the news of phone spying, he could not say anything formally now. “I also read in the news about the Pegasus case, but I was not in a position to comment on the information and the mechanism that was not in my knowledge. What can I say?” He told The Gurkha Times.

However, then Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli had proposed a law to ‘tapping the phone’ of the citizens by consolidating power by subordinating the National Investigation Department. The government has drafted a law that would allow the head of the National Investigation Department to intercept the phone. Despite the controversy over this issue, the special services bill passed by the National Assembly in June, 2077 BS has a provision of ‘interception’. The bill has reached the House of Representatives for theoretical discussion.

The bill has been made to give the head of the investigation department the right to ‘intercept’ all kinds of audio visual content on Facebook, Twitter, phone/internet, etc., if there is any activity against the national interest. The question has arisen that if the provisions of this bill are implemented, the personal details of the person may be misused.

For the benefit of the nation and for crime investigation and control, the National Investigation Department, CIB of Nepal Police, Drug Control Bureau, Special Bureau, Cyber ​​Bureau and other agencies are still spying through various means. However, the phone ‘interception’ is not yet legally recognised. The state is not allowed to collect personal details by secretly tapping anyone’s phone, even though the police extract call records from various telecommunication service providers with the permission of the court to investigate the crime.

During the investigation into the assassination of the then Supreme Court Judge Ran Bahadur Bam, the police had recovered call records of around 500,000 phones and SMS details of 30,000 phones. However, there was a controversy at the time, alleging that the police had interfered with personal privacy. ‘Police enjoyed reading the SMS, so as many details as possible were collected, such a sensitive right was not used in the investigation,’ says a former police official.

Even the then chief commissioner of the Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority, Lokman Singh Karki, was accused of abusing the mechanism of the National Investigation Department and tapping phones to extract personal details to level his critics. Advocate Baburam Aryal and others had filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court on September 26, 2008 alleging that such unauthorized access to personal details was illegal and against the constitutional human rights. Deciding on that, a bench of the then Chief Justice Kalyan Shrestha and Justice Devendra Gopal Shrestha had issued an order on January 7, 2008 not to access call/SMS records from telecom companies even in criminal investigations without the permission of the court.

According to a former DIG of Nepal Police, the government had introduced landline phone tapping devices during the 10-year Maoist armed conflict. ‘Frequency scanners and FM jammers were also brought during the conflict. At that time, there were some devices to intercept the phone, which helped a lot in controlling the violent activities, ‘the DIG told The Gurkha Times.

The official said that there was an attempt to buy a wireless device related to ‘interception’. According to a former security official, the government had tried to introduce the technology of ‘SIM card cloning’ five or seven years ago to increase the intelligence capability. He said that this technology is used to collect data by copying the SIM of a person’s phone and putting it in another phone. There was also an attempt to buy a spyware device to spy on the phone. The spyware is similar to the Pegasus used for interceptions in India for the last time, ‘he says. He said he could not say for sure whether it was done or not.

Opposition protests in India, parliament blocked

The Paris based non profit media organization Forbidden Stories and human rights group Amnesty International launched preliminary studies on Pegasus. Sixteen organizations, including the Washington Post in the United States, the Guardian in the United Kingdom, Le Monde in France, Süddeutsche Zeitung in Germany and The Wire in India, later launched an investigation into the news. According to the numbers found in the Pegasus data, digital forensic examination of the phone revealed that spyware was found in these phones. It has been confirmed that unauthorized entry of spyware into the target person’s phone has led to access to the phone’s file, mic and camera, ‘wrote the French magazine Le Monde.

The Indian government claims that Pegasus, developed by NSO (a company founded by company owners Niv, Salev Hulio and Omri Labi), has no signature. However, opposition parties and the media have questioned how the number of Indian personalities reached Pegasus’ data center. The NSO also sells only to the Pegasus government, and so far governments and security agencies in 36 countries have customers. He did not say which government had customers. In response to an email from the Indian media institute The Wire, the company said, “We only provide such services to a limited number of governments after an investigation.” Opposition lawmakers blocked the Indian parliament on Monday, seeking a response from the government.

Indian Prime Minister Modi paid a three day visit to Israel on July 6, 2017. It is suspected that the spy technology may have been introduced in that process. According to Indian media, phone spying has been started in India since 2017 after reports of corruption in a fighter jet purchased from the French company Rafale. So many journalists writing news on defense matters have been spotted on Pegasus targets. According to media investigations, the phones of The Hindu winner Singh, Sushant Singh of The Indian Express and Prem Shankar Jha of The Wire, Sandeep Unnithan of India Today Group and Manoj Gupta of Network-18 were targeted by Pegasus. These journalists have been writing on defense matters. Similarly, the phone numbers of Shishir Gupta, editor of Hindustan Times, Prashant Jha, editor of the editorial page, Rahul Singh, defense correspondent and Aurangzeb Nakswandi, Congress correspondent were also found in the Pegasus data.

The phones of Siddharth Bardharajan and MK Benu, the founding editors of The Wire, and Devirupa Mitra, the editor of diplomatic affairs, and Rohini Singh, a journalist, were also targeted. Rohini had written a report on the business of Home Minister Amit Shah’s son Jai Shah, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s aide Nikhil Merchant and influential minister Piyush Goyal. Who writes on security matters.

According to The Wire, spyware was found while checking 13 iPhones and 9 Android phones of Indian journalists found in Pegasus’ list. “The phone set with the suspicious number was tested in Amnesty International’s laboratory and found to be infected in some way,” Wire wrote.

However, not only Indian journalists but also political party leaders, diplomats and constitutional commission officials have been targeted in the Pegasus attack. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s nephew Abhishek Banerjee, former Election Commissioner Ashok Lavasa and election strategist Prashant Kishor have also been targeted. Not only that, the numbers of Modi government’s ministers Ashwini Vaishnav and Prahlad Patel have also been found in the list of Pegasus. He became a minister only two years ago. “Not only the minister, but also the officials of the Hindutva Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) are suspected of being spied on. I will speak on the issue when more news comes out,” The Hindu quoted BJP leader Subramanian as saying.

Protests have erupted in India over phone spying, while concerns have also been raised in Nepal. Binoj Basnyat, an expert on geopolitics and military diplomacy, says the controversial issue of “interception/phone tapping” in neighboring countries will have a negative impact on Nepal as well. Expressed by tapping the phones of diplomats and unauthorized neighbours.

The issue of state monitoring over past details has come out. Such issues of abuse of power can lead to controversy, ‘says Basnyat.’ In Nepal, India, or any other democratic country, the right to personal privacy and interference in diplomatic relations should be denied. ‘

According to Basnyat, if the United States is found to be engaged in anti-national activities, the State Department may intervene responsibly. However, he said that if anyone files a case in the court for interfering in matters other than the national interest, the person who gives permission will be the party to the action.

Advocate Baburam Aryal, who is also an information/technology expert, says that the news that Nepali Ambassador Acharya may have been intercepted through Pegasus is very serious. “It has been reported through Pegasus that various Indian diplomats have been intercepted, including Nepal’s ambassador to Delhi. This is a step against the sovereignty of our country. The government of Nepal should take this issue seriously.”

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