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Project Pegasus: A Trojan Horse

Technological surveillance was predicted to control population by force, perception control and scrutiny. The prophecy’s future is here, in the present and now.

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Project Pegasus marks a disturbing, unprecedented and a dystopian vision of Orwell’s surveillance society. The sheer brazenness with which individuals were targeted and their devices penetrated and hacked, sends alarm bells on the apprehensions of full-scale surveillance and debauchery of liberty and freedom/expression. The similarities with 1984 is very stark, therein Orwell talks about tubes, monitoring your each and every sinew of action. There was no imagination of private diary. Thought police as a means of controlling thought. Now juxtapose, this with present situation, which has been unveiled through the expose. Breaking of end-to-end encryption, access of microphones, contact numbers and galleries, GPS real time tracking and etc.…

In the recent exposé, it has come to forefront that thousands of individuals were targeted by NSO’s hacking spyware, Pegasus. NSO is an Israel based surveillance company. Pegasus is a malware that infects iPhone and android devices to enable operators of the tool to extract messages, photos and emails, record calls and secretly activates microphones.

The expose has a list of more than 50,000 individuals who are believed to be targeted. Forensics analysis of a small number of phones whose numbers appeared on the leaked list also showed more than half had traces of the Pegasus spyware. According to Claudio Guarneri, who runs amnesty international’s security lab, once a phone was infected with Pegasus, a client of NSO could in effect take control of a phone, enabling them to extract a person’s messages, calls, photos and emails, secretly activate cameras or microphones, and read the contents of encrypted messaging apps such as WhatsApp, telegram and signal.

This service was used by governments, military regimes and corporations to track and sedate individuals. The individuals are said to be journalists, whistle blowers, human right defenders. This is a clear violation of the right to privacy that is guaranteed to us all under the constitution and universal human right declaration.

Apart from being an infringement of rights, this also raises apprehensions that the software may be used not only for surveillance but also to fabricate evidence against opposition voices. We have already seen how similar surveillance and hacking software was used in the Bhima Koregaon case to frame activists and human rights defenders on completely fictitious and trumped-up charges by planting fabricated evidence on their devices. The latest revelations about this mega surveillance project have serious implications for privacy, fundamental rights, safety and security of all citizens.

This in a nutshell puts things in perspective on the magnitude of this revelation and puts it alongside Snowden, WikiLeaks and Cambridge Analytica fiasco. With the global authoritarian tendencies on the overdrive, hammering on the freedom of expression and dissent; this new marriage with technology raises unprecedented questions.

Technological surveillance was predicted to control population by force, perception control and scrutiny. The prophecy’s future is here, in the present and now.

Finally, with the advent of new it intermediary rules in India, the debate on privacy and surveillance is out there in the open. In this milieu, it is high time, that we as a society, awaken from the deep slumber and engage in broad based deliberations on the basic and fundamental questions of human freedom, liberty and dignity of human beings. If citizens are treated like lab rats or tied down in brick walls, we cease to exist as humane society.

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