NSO Group

To

Shri A K Bhalla

Union Home Secretary Dear Shri Bhalla,

Kindly refer to my letters dated 31-3-2019, 31-10-2019 & 19-7-2021 addressed to you (copies forwarded here) on the possible use/misuse of Pegasus in India.

I wish to draw your attention to a press conference held by the Chattisgarh Chief Minister, as indicated in a news report, “Pegasus: Chhattisgarh CM Claims NSO Officials Visited State Under BJP Rule” (https://thewire.in/government/pegasus- chhattisgarh-cm-claims-nso- officials-visited-state-under-bjp-rule) in which he said that there was evidence of Pegasus officials visiting his State under BJP rule.

This corroborates what I had said in 2019 about the possibility of AP govt also acquiring Pegasus, an information that should be available on the Union Home Ministry’s records.

As I have been saying all along, it is possible that AP, Chhattisgarh and a few more States would have acquired Pegasus for snooping over the rivals of the political parties that were in power at that time. Apparently, Pegasus was used by the States’ intelligence agencies. From this position, the following inferences are inevitable.

  1. Both the Union Ministry of Information Technology and the Union Home Ministry are fully aware of the concerned States’ intelligence officials visiting Israel or the Pegasus officials visiting the concerned States, as the same would have been reported to the Home Ministry by the IB and some of this information being brought to the notice of both the Ministries through my letters from time to time.
  2. If the Union Home Ministry had indeed cleared the acquisition of the spyware from Israel by the concerned States, the Centre cannot contend that it was not aware of its use in India.
  3. If the States’ intelligence agencies were in possession of the spyware and had the license to use the same, the same intelligence agencies must be still using the same even after there has been a change in the political party that is ruling the State now. It is possible that those States use or misuse the spyware anytime or the parties behind Pegasus acquisition may still be using
  4. An NSS policy paper is reported to have given Pegasus to 60 customers (“vetted” government agencies) in 40 countries, 51% to intelligence agencies, 38% law enforcement entities and 11% In other words, more than one intelligence agency was given the spyware in a country.
  5. While the Union government may not have used the spyware by itself, it may still be aware of the intelligence agencies at the Centre and in the States using the same, in which case, it should disclose the same fact to the Parliament without any
  6. A spyware like Pegasus has many potential avenues of misuse. The fact that the Centre may not have used it does not preclude its misuse in India by some other agencies, which could be domestic or There are national security concerns in this. Therefore, in my view, it is not prudent for the government to be in a total state of denial before the Parliament. Any kind of misuse of any spyware makes it mandatory for the government to probe the same.

I understand that the Union Minister for Information Technology will make a statement before the Parliament today. The present incumbent may not be fully aware of these facts. It is therefore the responsibility of the Union Home Ministry and the Secretary, Information Technology to apprise him of the same, as it is nonone’s intention to make an erroneous statement to the Parliament.

Kindly keep these facts in ming while informing the Parliament of the use/ misuse of Pegasus.

Regards,

Yours sincerely, E A S Sarma

Former Secretary to Govt of India Visakhapatnam

22-7-2021

Letter dated 19-7-2021

To

Shri A K Bhalla

Union Home Secretary Dear Shri Bhalla,

I refer to my two letters dated 31-3-2019 & 31-10-2019 addressed to you (copies forwarded here) on the use of the Pegasus spyware acquired from Israel by the then AP government at an exorbitant cost.

The latest reports (enclosed) suggest that someone either within India or outside had used Pegasus extensively to tap and hack the telephones of several important public functionaries including a few sitting Ministers, opposition leaders, senior persons associated with the legal profession, journalists, activists and others. This should cause a serious concern to the government as it not only would have violated the right to privacy of the citizens but also would have been misused for ulterior purposes.

From what I have gathered from the clarification issued yesterday by the Union Ministry of Information Technology, it appears that the government are unaware of any “unauthorised” tapping of telephones.

My letters in 2019 clearly cautioned the Union Home Ministry of at least one State government, namely, Andhra Pradesh, acquiring Pegasus at an exorbitant cost . At that time, I had raised the following questions for investigation.

  1. AP officials had visited Israel and acquired the spy software along with the necessary electronic systems. Are the Customs aware of this?
  2. Is the Govt of India a party to this software/ equipment import?
  3. Can a State, without Central surveillance, acquire such software and snoop on the people? Does it not violate the privacy of the individuals? Should either the Centre or the States snoop on citizens in an unfettered manner?
  4. Did the ruling party in AP misuse this spyware in the 2019 elections? There have been complaints that lakhs of voters’ names got deleted in AP and Has this something to do with this?

If these questions remain unanswered till date, someone senior in the Central government should come clean in the matter and explain to the public as to why these concerns had not been addressed. It is possible that the AP government is using this software even now. If it is so, is the Centre a party to it?

It is also possible that several other States have acquired Pegasus and are using the same to snoop on unwary citizens and their political rivals. If this is so, it is a matter of grave concern.

I am not sure whether Pegasus can also be used to “plant” information in the electronic devices used by the citizens. In this connection, I refer to the Washington Post report (https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2021/04/20/india-bhima- koregaon-activists-report/). If the spyware has such a capability, would it not raise questions on the validity of electronic evidence of any kind? Assuming that such planting of evidence is possible, those using the spyware can plant evidence in the electronic devices used by their rivals. One should remember that the States in India are not necessarily ruled by the one at the Centre and vice-versa. This is a situation that can play havoc with the democratic systems in place.

In principle, surreptitious use of any spyware to snoop over the citizens is objectionable. Interception of telephonic conversations in the name of “security” can at best be exceptional, subject to an independent review by persons of unimpeachable integrity. Whoever uses such interception methods should know that it is not a one- way process. It can be used against senior public functionaries in a manner that adversely affects the national and the overall public interest.

Kindly order an investigation into the questions raised by me then and, again, now. Preferably, an enquiry by an eminent member of the higher judiciary is desirable.

Regards,

Yours sincerely,

E A S Sarma

former Secretary to GOI Visakhapatnam

Letter dated 31-10-2019

 

To

Shri A K Bhalla

Union Home Secretary Dear Shri Bhalla,

I refer to my letter dated 31-3-2019 (enclosed) addressed to your predecessor on the then AP govt acquiring Israeli equipment to tap WhatsApp accounts of private persons. I am not sure whether your Ministry had ordered an investigation into this and whether the State had unauthorisedly tapped the WhatsApp accounts of citizens, journalists and others.

International news media have reported today that WhatsApp has since sued the Israeli technology firm NSO Group, accusing it of using the Facebook-owned messaging service to conduct cyber espionage on journalists, human rights activists and others (https://www.news18.com/news/world/whatsapp-sues-israeli-technology- firm-nso-for-using- its-app-to-spy-on-journalists-activists-2366539.html) in several countries, including India.

I feel that, if AP govt had indeed procured such a technology from Israel as indicated by me, it constituted a serious breach to national security and the privacy of the citizens. I get the feeling that the then State govt had unilaterally gone ahead, without securing any permission from either the Home Ministry or the Ministry of Information Technology, to purchase the equipment/ software. If it is so, those responsible, including the political leaders at whose instance the Israeli technology was obtained, should be subject to prosecution under the law of the land.

May I request you to acknowledge the receipt of this mail? If the Union Home Ministry had not acted on my letter in March, 2019, that Ministry too has to answer for the delay in taking action.

I am marking a copy of this mail to the Cabinet Secretary and Secretary (IT).

It is possible that the then political leadership of AP had misused the Israeli technology to spy on citizens keeping in view the impending general elections. If it is so, it would constitute an electoral offence calling for a severe deterrent punishment. I am therefore marking a copy of this mail to the Election Commission of India.

Regards,

Yours sincerely, E A S Sarma

Former Secretary to GOI Visakhapatnam

31-10-2019

Letter dated 31-3-2019

To

Shri Rajiv Gauba Union Home Secretary

Dear Shri Gauba,

Enclosed is an article that indicates acquisition of an Israeli equipment by Andhra Pradesh government to tap the WhatsApp accounts of private individuals in the State. I am not sure whether the Union Home Ministry and Information Technology Ministry are aware of this.

I have the following concerns on this.

  1. From the news report, it appears that the AP officials had transported the device surreptitiously to India. Are the Customs aware of this?
  2. Is Govt of India a party to this equipment import?
  3. Can a State, without Central surveillance, snoop on the people? Does it not violate the privacy of the individuals? Should either the Centre or the States snoop on citizens in an unfettered manner?
  4. Did the ruling party in AP misuse this device in the ensuing elections? There have been complaints that lakhs of voters’ names have got deleted in AP and Has this something to do with this?

These are serious concerns revolving around intrusion into the privacy of the citizens and possibly manipulating the electoral processes.

I request you to get this investigated and if there are statutory violations, take immediate deterrent action against all those responsible.

Regards,

Yours sincerely, E A S Sarma

Former Secretary to GOI Visakhapatnam

31-3-2019


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