In an apparent move to save the NSO group – owner of the Pegasus spyware – from public criticism, an Israeli court cited national security concerns and ordered a closed-door hearing in the case against the company. The case was filed by Amnesty International and they are demanding a ban on the export of Pegasus along with restrictions on the NSO group. The judge also imposed a ban on the media, preventing it from reporting on the proceedings of the case.
The Pegasus spyware has been used in recent years by various countries to target journalists and dissidents, including in India. The NSO group had earlier claimed it sells the spyware only to state governments to help them fight “terrorism and other crimes,” and that the company should not be implicated for any misuse of the software by these governments.
There are a large number of cases where Pegasus was found to have been used by states to curb dissent and to target journalists and activists. The spyware can be installed in a person’s phone by sending a message or a link on WhatsApp. Once installed, it can provide full access to the target’s personal files, such as chats, emails, and photos to the customer using a specially crafted code.
Last year, Facebook, on the basis of a research done by Citizen Lab, a research group affiliated with the University of Toronto, had sued the NSO group in a US court for using its online message service WhatsApp for spying on at least 1,400 activists and journalists.
Amnesty complained in 2018, that one of its employees was being targeted using the spyware. It was also allegedly used in the assassination of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, in 2018.
In October 2019, a large number of activists, lawyers and journalists in India, including Bella Bhatia, Nihal Singh Rathore and others, complained that their phones had been bugged using WhatsApp by the BJP-ruled Maharashtra State police. Most of these activists have been hounded in the controversial Bhima Koregaon case by the Indian government.