The Supreme Court of India has ordered an independent probe into the government’s alleged ‘Orwellian’ use of the Pegasus spyware, made by Israeli firm NSO, to monitor activists, opposition politicians and reporters.
Following petitions from reported targets of the spyware, the Supreme Court’s Chief Justice N.V. Ramana ruled on Wednesday that an independent investigation should be conducted into the substance of the allegations levelled against the government.
Announcing the probe, the Chief Justice stated that the reported use of the Pegaus software “raises an Orwellian concern,” warning government officials that they cannot get a “free pass” by raising “the specter of national security.”
The court accepted the petitions for an independent investigation after the government offered “no specific denial” in response to the suggestion it had targeted people with NSO’s technology.
Leaked documents earlier this year suggested that India was one of 45 countries that had seen tens of thousands of people around the world targeted by the Israeli firm’s Pegasus spyware. It is believed that more than a thousand people in India, including activists, opposition politicians and reporters, were the victims of monitoring through the use of the technology.
Among those believed to have been surveilled are the senior opposition leader Rahul Gandhi, critics of the government and even former members of the judiciary.
The Indian government has, so far, failed to offer a public denial that it used the Pegasus software, arguing that it cannot discuss the matter due to national security concerns. However, it has offered to establish its own committee to investigate the reports.
The Pegasus spyware works by targeting communication devices directly, providing those using the product with access to their target’s messages, photos and locations, allowing them to effectively monitor them.