Chapter Ninety-Five: Big Brother snoops again? And other readings…

After initial reports of the Pegasus surfaced in 2021, and several denials by the state, last month we see fresh news of some new snooping. We take a look. And we also add several news and analyses for referential reading. Happy New Year 2024.

In 2021, allegations of widespread government surveillance using Israeli Pegasus spyware sparked outrage in India, targeting journalists, activists, even political figures. The incident is even though not a first in the world, it definitely reminded of George Orwell’s 1984 and the surveillance state sponsored in it.

Pegasus, an upgraded tool in the surveillance arsenal of Israel military industry complex, was tested and proved efficient in the world's largest open air prison, Palestine. It is certain that the ongoing genocide in Palestine was already foreseen with assistance from Pegasus and it's test targets. Such a spyware completely makes sense about how occupation is justified as profit by its selling to other countries. What any state seek is the control of its people by any means. The state’s quest for absolute surveillance has to be understood as a hunger for absolute control of the populations. This is what raised alarms among the opposition members in October when they received a notification stating,

"Apple believes you are being targeted by state-sponsored attackers who are trying to remotely compromise the iPhone associated with your Apple ID."

Many of the opposition leaders including Shashi Tharoor, Supriya Shrinate, Mahua Moitra, Priyanka Chaturvedi took to their social media handles the message they received and accused the ruling party of attempting to impose surveillance on them. Apple’s response to their own notifications denied any involvement of the state in this spyware attack, they stated,

"very well-funded and sophisticated, and their attacks evolve over time. Detecting such attacks relies on threat intelligence signals that are often imperfect and incomplete."

But it is to be noted that Apple only denied the involvement of the state and not the nature of the attack which was similar to the military grade Israeli spyware, Pegasus.

Who are the targets, and why?

This is an important question to which the responses can be summarized easily. The individuals who were targeted were not posing any national security concerns or risks, most of them are politicians who have been elected through a democratic process and others are activists or journalists doing their job perfectly. Then why are they the targets?

If, as Apple stated, it is not a spyware attack by the state, then who is taking an interest in these individuals? Is it a mere coincidence that the state is also interested in them? The answer to these questions is the most simple one: They are targeted because of who they are and what they do! This is defined by the email titled

“ALERT: State-sponsored attackers may be targeting your iPhone”,

it does go on to specifically say that,

“These attackers are likely targeting you individually because of who you are or what you do. If your device is compromised by a state-sponsored attacker, they may be able to remotely access your sensitive data, communications, or even the camera and microphone.”

These attackers are likely targeting you individually because of who you are or what you do. 

The conversation sparked by the Pegasus controversy in 2021 which eventually faded has once again come into the limelight. It is to be seen where that conversation is going to go this time. What is important to note is that every time a spyware attack has been reported by the tech companies, the state stands at the center of it.

As a tail end, we need to comprehend something else in the context of the said stories related to spyware attacks on citizens of this country and elsewhere: The Telecommunications Bill of 2023 that was listed for introduction and passage on 20th December. It is to be seen as another step in the implementation of a net that eventually nears the completion of Big brother's widening of its absolute control which would violate the rights of ordinary citizens. If the first step was Pegasus giving eyes to the big brother that imagined all the wings of surveillance, Telecommunications bill is going to give its rest of the body iron arms. It allows the "government to seize control of a telecom network during public emergencies or for public safety". Then the questions are, who decides what is an emergency? (when we are already in the midst of an unannounced emergency) and who defines what is safe for the public? In a country where internet shut downs are normalized, an understanding of the impact of such a bill matters more than ever. Link to a detailed discussion thread on this topic is provided below:

We are no more at the beginning of any horrors, we are at the center of it. As citizens in what we believe is still a democratic nation or has some remnants of it left, we ought to stand guard of its functions as a democracy and not allow it to become an Orwellian nightmare.

In other news

MPs suspended from the parliament for demanding a discussion around the recent security breach.

It is indeed important to be aware and have an idea on how to recognize and tackle disinformation - while we have worked on this in detail, here is another recent article:

Centre exempts CERT from RTI - a move that further weakens the landmark Right to Information Act, which had been watered down already in a recent amendment.

In other DEF updates:

DEF conducted workshops earlier this month

DEF turned 21

DEF on its 21st birthday pledges to create an inclusive, sustainable & just Digital Future.

The story of DEF

DEF turns 21! DEF's vision: a pictorial representation

We are posting this Chapter of TypeRight in the new year of 2024, although the post was written in 2023. Therefore, we are also sharing some of the major news and discussions that we consider worth noting here. The following clippings are collected over a period of last 2-3 weeks.

Following is the end note that defines the going of 2023 and the coming of 2024.

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TypeRight - The Digital Nukkad

TypeRight - The Digital Nukkad, is a weekly conversational bulletin curated through the news and discussions on social media as well as what's happening on the ground. Through the eyes and ears of Digital Empowerment Foundation across rural India and global south, TypeRight aspires to focus on bringing the contextual relevance of digital technologies and developments on the society - both connected and unconnected.