A district court in the United States has ordered Israeli cyber intelligence company NSO Group to hand over the code of Pegasus and its other spyware products to messaging application WhatsApp as part of ongoing legal proceedings, The Guardian reported on Thursday.

WhatsApp, which is owned by United States-based technology company Meta, has been locked in a legal battle with the Israeli firm since 2019. WhatsApp has alleged that the NSO Group’s spyware had been used against 1,400 users of the messaging application over a two-week period in April and May 2019.

Judge Phyllis Hamilton in the US District Court for the Northern District of California ordered the NSO Group to produce “all relevant spyware” for a period of one year before and after the alleged hacking took place, The Guardian reported.

The cyber intelligence company was also ordered to provide WhatsApp information “concerning the full functionality of the relevant spyware”.

However, the court said that the NSO Group is currently not required to reveal the names of its clients.

When added to an electronic device, the Pegasus software can generally gain access to phone calls, emails, location information, encrypted messages and photographs without the user’s knowledge.

In July 2021, an investigation by a group of 17 media organisations and human rights group Amnesty International showed that Pegasus spyware was being used for the unauthorised surveillance of journalists, activists and politicians across the world, including in India.

The spyware is licensed to governments around the world by the NSO Group. The cyber intelligence company says it sells the Pegasus software only to “vetted governments” with good human rights records and that it is intended to target criminals.

In India, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, former Election Commissioner Ashok Lavasa, Union ministers Ashwini Vaishnaw and Prahlad Singh Patel, industrialist Anil Ambani and former Central Bureau of Investigation Director Alok Verma were among the potential targets, The Wire had reported.

The Indian government had denied these allegations. Vaishnaw, the Union information technology minister, told Parliament in July 2021 that illegal surveillance was not possible in India.

Following the reports, the Supreme Court appointed an expert committee to look into the allegations. In August 2022, the court said that some malware was found on five of the 29 phones that the panel examined. However, it was not clear whether the malware was Pegasus.

The judges also took note of a finding by the panel that the Centre did not cooperate with the inquiry.

The United States government blacklisted the NSO Group in November 2021 after it determined that the company had acted “contrary to the foreign policy and national security interests of the US”.

Also read: Why India’s privileged citizens are cheerleaders for surveillance tech