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Pegasus scandal: SC stays Justice Lokur Commission probe

Decision comes even as it is revealed that Rona Wilson’s laptop was infected with Pegasus spyware

Sabrangindia 17 Dec 2021

Pegasus scandal: SC stays Justice Lokur Commission probe

In fresh developments in the Pegasus spyware case, the Supreme Court on Friday passed an interim order staying a probe being conducted into the Pegasus spyware scandal by a Commission led by (Retd) Justice Madan Lokur for the West Bengal Government. The SC was disappointed that a parallel probe was taking place even though the SC ordered the formation of a three-member technical Committee to conduct a probe.

In October this year, a SC bench comprising Chief Justice NV Ramana, and Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli, that was hearing a batch of petitions demanding a probe into these allegations, had ordered the formation of an independent expert committee to look into allegations of the use of the Pegasus spyware for targeted surveillance of several journalists, activists and political dissidents. The three technical experts are:

  • Dr. Naveen Kumar Chaudhary, Professor (Cyber Security and Digital Forensics) and Dean, National Forensics University, Gandhinagar, Gujarat.

  • Dr. Prabaharan P., Professor (School of Engineering), Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, Amritapuri, Kerala.

  • Dr. Ashwin Anil Gumaste, Institute Chair Associate Professor (Computer Science and Engineering), Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, Maharashtra.

The functioning of this committee will be overseen by Justice RV Raveendran, former Judge, Supreme Court of India. Justice Raveendran will be assisted by:

  • Mr. Alok Joshi, former IPS officer (1976 batch)

  • Dr. Sundeep Oberoi, Chairman, ISO/IEC JTC1 SC7 (International Organisation of Standardisation/ International Electro ­Technical Commission/Joint Technical Committee)

SabrangIndia had reported earlier about how the West Bengal government had formed a two-member inquiry commission to look into the Pegasus Project in July this year. The Commission consists of the former Supreme Court judge Madan Bhimrao Lokur, and former Calcutta High Court Chief Justice, Jyotirmay Bhattacharya.

This was around the time when the government of India was still busy dodging questions about the scandal by giving a series of non-answers and engaging in elaborate deflective tactics, all on the pretext of national security concerns. In late July and early August 2021, after a Rajya Sabha Member of Parliament and a few journalists, all targetted by the spyware moved Supreme Court, the Centre that had been hitherto avoiding making any formal statements, finally made its first official comment on the matter in response to a question raised in Parliament.

The written response provided on August 9, by Ajay Bhatt, Minister of State in the Ministry of Defence, said, “Ministry of Defence has not had any transaction with NSO Group Technologies.” This is significant because NSO, the Israeli manufacturer of the spyware that was used to snoop on as many as 300 Indians including journalists, activists and dissenters, only engages in transactions with “vetted governments”.

Interestingly, when the Supreme Court issued notice to the Centre in the matter, the Centre actually refused to disclose any information and did not file a detailed affidavit as asked for by the court, citing “national security” concerns.

More skeletons tumble out of the closet

Meanwhile, in yet another shocking disclosure, Washington Post has revealed that activist Rona Wilson, who has been implicated in the Bhima Koregaon case with many other fellow human rights defenders, was also a victim of the Pegasus spyware.  

According to WaPo, an analysis by the Amnesty International’s Security Lab revealed that two backups of an iPhone 6 belonging to Wilson had “digital traces showing infection by the Pegasus surveillance tool”, something that by Pegasus’s own admission was licenced only to vetted governments. The phone backups were shared with the Amnesty team by Arsenal Consulting, a digital forensics firm that had upon request from Wilson’s defence team examined digital copies of his laptop and phones, and revealed that they had been infected by a malware that allowed for planting of false evidence on his devices.

Responding to a query by WaPo, NSO group said that the allegations raised in the inquiry “were not clear”, but also added on a rather chilling note, “Once a democratic country lawfully, following due process, uses tools to investigate a person suspected in an attempt to overthrow a (democratically elected) government, this would not be considered a misuse of such tools by any means.”

This discovery is likely to play a significant role in the cases against not just Wilson, but also others implicated in the Bhima Koregaon case, where one of the 16 accused, namely Fr. Stan Swamy has already passed away, and only Sudha Bharadwaj has been let out of jail on default bail.

 

Related:

Defence Ministry has had no transaction with Pegasus developer NSO Group: Centre in RS
Centre refuses to disclose use of Pegasus in affidavit, pleads national security
Pegasus Project: 5 targeted journalists move SC, say have been subject to intrusive hacking
Pegasus Snoopgate: RS MP, Journalists move SC for court monitored probe

Pegasus scandal: SC stays Justice Lokur Commission probe

Decision comes even as it is revealed that Rona Wilson’s laptop was infected with Pegasus spyware

Pegasus scandal: SC stays Justice Lokur Commission probe

In fresh developments in the Pegasus spyware case, the Supreme Court on Friday passed an interim order staying a probe being conducted into the Pegasus spyware scandal by a Commission led by (Retd) Justice Madan Lokur for the West Bengal Government. The SC was disappointed that a parallel probe was taking place even though the SC ordered the formation of a three-member technical Committee to conduct a probe.

In October this year, a SC bench comprising Chief Justice NV Ramana, and Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli, that was hearing a batch of petitions demanding a probe into these allegations, had ordered the formation of an independent expert committee to look into allegations of the use of the Pegasus spyware for targeted surveillance of several journalists, activists and political dissidents. The three technical experts are:

  • Dr. Naveen Kumar Chaudhary, Professor (Cyber Security and Digital Forensics) and Dean, National Forensics University, Gandhinagar, Gujarat.

  • Dr. Prabaharan P., Professor (School of Engineering), Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, Amritapuri, Kerala.

  • Dr. Ashwin Anil Gumaste, Institute Chair Associate Professor (Computer Science and Engineering), Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, Maharashtra.

The functioning of this committee will be overseen by Justice RV Raveendran, former Judge, Supreme Court of India. Justice Raveendran will be assisted by:

  • Mr. Alok Joshi, former IPS officer (1976 batch)

  • Dr. Sundeep Oberoi, Chairman, ISO/IEC JTC1 SC7 (International Organisation of Standardisation/ International Electro ­Technical Commission/Joint Technical Committee)

SabrangIndia had reported earlier about how the West Bengal government had formed a two-member inquiry commission to look into the Pegasus Project in July this year. The Commission consists of the former Supreme Court judge Madan Bhimrao Lokur, and former Calcutta High Court Chief Justice, Jyotirmay Bhattacharya.

This was around the time when the government of India was still busy dodging questions about the scandal by giving a series of non-answers and engaging in elaborate deflective tactics, all on the pretext of national security concerns. In late July and early August 2021, after a Rajya Sabha Member of Parliament and a few journalists, all targetted by the spyware moved Supreme Court, the Centre that had been hitherto avoiding making any formal statements, finally made its first official comment on the matter in response to a question raised in Parliament.

The written response provided on August 9, by Ajay Bhatt, Minister of State in the Ministry of Defence, said, “Ministry of Defence has not had any transaction with NSO Group Technologies.” This is significant because NSO, the Israeli manufacturer of the spyware that was used to snoop on as many as 300 Indians including journalists, activists and dissenters, only engages in transactions with “vetted governments”.

Interestingly, when the Supreme Court issued notice to the Centre in the matter, the Centre actually refused to disclose any information and did not file a detailed affidavit as asked for by the court, citing “national security” concerns.

More skeletons tumble out of the closet

Meanwhile, in yet another shocking disclosure, Washington Post has revealed that activist Rona Wilson, who has been implicated in the Bhima Koregaon case with many other fellow human rights defenders, was also a victim of the Pegasus spyware.  

According to WaPo, an analysis by the Amnesty International’s Security Lab revealed that two backups of an iPhone 6 belonging to Wilson had “digital traces showing infection by the Pegasus surveillance tool”, something that by Pegasus’s own admission was licenced only to vetted governments. The phone backups were shared with the Amnesty team by Arsenal Consulting, a digital forensics firm that had upon request from Wilson’s defence team examined digital copies of his laptop and phones, and revealed that they had been infected by a malware that allowed for planting of false evidence on his devices.

Responding to a query by WaPo, NSO group said that the allegations raised in the inquiry “were not clear”, but also added on a rather chilling note, “Once a democratic country lawfully, following due process, uses tools to investigate a person suspected in an attempt to overthrow a (democratically elected) government, this would not be considered a misuse of such tools by any means.”

This discovery is likely to play a significant role in the cases against not just Wilson, but also others implicated in the Bhima Koregaon case, where one of the 16 accused, namely Fr. Stan Swamy has already passed away, and only Sudha Bharadwaj has been let out of jail on default bail.

 

Related:

Defence Ministry has had no transaction with Pegasus developer NSO Group: Centre in RS
Centre refuses to disclose use of Pegasus in affidavit, pleads national security
Pegasus Project: 5 targeted journalists move SC, say have been subject to intrusive hacking
Pegasus Snoopgate: RS MP, Journalists move SC for court monitored probe

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