The Pegasus spyware can only be sold to governments, newly-appointed Israeli ambassador to India Naor Gilon said on Thursday, PTI reported.
“NSO [Pegasus manufacturer] is a private Israeli company,” Gilon told reporters. “Every export of NSO or such companies need an export licence of the Israeli government. We grant this export licence only for exporting to governments.”
Gilon’s comments came a day after the Supreme Court appointed a three-member technical committee to investigate allegations that the Pegasus spyware was used to snoop on Indian citizens, including journalists, activists and political leaders.
However, the Israeli envoy refused to comment on the inquiry, saying it was India’s “internal matter”.
After Gilon’s statement, Congress leader P Chidambaram said that “in India’s case, the buyer was certainly the Government of India”. The politician asked whether India’s Minister for Telecommunications would “admit that the buyer of Pegasus was the Government of India”.
The spyware gives attackers near-complete control over a victim’s phone via a zero-click attack – meaning that no action is required on the part of the victim for her data to be exposed.
The revelations on the suspected use of Pegasus have raised questions about whether the Indian government was illegally snooping on its critics. After the potential illegal use of Pegasus was reported by 17 media organisations across the world, Israeli cybersecurity firm NSO Group Technologies had said that it sold the spyware only to “vetted governments”.
In the Supreme Court order on Thursday, Chief Justice of India NV Ramana had noted that there was “no specific denial” from the Centre on the allegations made by the petitioners seeking an investigation into the matter.
Ramana also said that in a democratic country, “indiscriminate spying on individuals” cannot be allowed without following the procedures established by law.
The list of people who have been allegedly spied on in India include Congress MP Rahul Gandhi, former Election Commissioner of India Ashok Lavasa, Union ministers Ashwini Vaishnaw and Prahlad Singh Patel, industrialist Anil Ambani, former Central Bureau of Investigation Director Alok Verma and many others.
- No ‘free pass’ for ‘national security concerns’: How SC rejected Centre’s arguments on Pegasus
- Pegasus spyware: How does it work and how can you tell if your phone is at risk?