India’s highest court is investigating espionage allegations against the government

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NEW DELHI (AP) – India’s Supreme Court set up a panel of experts on Wednesday to investigate allegations that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government used Israeli military-grade spyware to monitor political opponents, journalists and activists.

The Supreme Court order came in response to petitions filed in July by a group of Indian journalists, human rights activists and opposition politicians following an investigation by a global media consortium. The committee, chaired by a retired judge, is expected to deliver its findings by the end of the year.

India’s opposition calls for an investigation into the use of the Israeli spyware Pegasus in India.

Modi’s government has “unequivocally” denied allegations of illegal surveillance. India’s Information Technology Minister Ashwani Vaishnaw in parliament rejected the allegations in July, calling them “very sensational”, “exaggerated” and “an attempt to slander Indian democracy”.

But the government failed to tell the court in an affidavit that it was using the Israeli equipment for espionage, citing on security grounds.

On Wednesday, the court said the state could not get a free pass every time it raised security concerns.

“The violation of the right to privacy and freedom of expression, as alleged in pleas in law, needs to be investigated,” the Press Trust of India Chief Justice NV quoted Ramanna as saying.

Based on leaked targeting data, the results of a global media consortium provided evidence that spyware from Israel’s NSO Group, the world’s most notorious hacker-for-hire company, was allegedly used to infiltrate devices on a range of targets. including journalists, activists and political opponents in 50 countries.

The company announced in July that it was only selling to “audited government agencies” for use against terrorists and major criminals, and that it had no view of its customers’ data.

Critics have called these claims dishonest and have provided evidence that NSO is directly managing the high-tech espionage. They say the repeated abuse of Pegasus spyware shows the almost complete lack of regulation in the private global surveillance industry.

Pegasus infiltrates phones to soak up personal and location data, and covertly controls the smartphone’s microphones and cameras. In the case of journalists, this enables hackers to spy on reporters’ communications with sources.

Rights groups say the results back up allegations that not only autocratic regimes, but democratic governments as well, including India, have used spyware for political purposes.

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