Cyber Security – CERTs, Policy, etc

What is Pegasus Spyware Controversy?


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Pegasus

Mains level : State survellience and Right to Privacy

A New York Times report has claimed that the Indian government had bought the Pegasus Spyware in 2017.

What is Pegasus?

  • Pegasus is a spyware developed by NSO Group, an Israeli surveillance firm that helps spies hack into phones.
  • In 2019, when WhatsApp sued the firm in a U.S. court, the matter came to light.
  • In July 2021, Amnesty International, along with 13 media outlets across the globe released a report on how the spyware was used to snoop hundreds of individuals, including Indians.
  • While the NSO claims its spyware is sold only to governments, none of the nations have come forward to accept the claims.

Why is Pegasus so lethal?

  • What makes Pegasus really dangerous is that it spares no aspect of a person’s identity.
  • It makes older techniques of spying seem relatively harmless.
  • It can intercept every call and SMS, read every email and monitor each messaging app.
  • Pegasus can also control the phone’s camera and microphone and has access to the device’s location data.
  • The app advertises that it can carry out “file retrieval”, which means it could access any document that a target might have stored on their phone.

Dysfunctions created by Pegasus

  • Privacy breach: The very existence of a surveillance system, whether under a provision of law or without it, impacts the right to privacy under Article 21 and the exercise of free speech under Article 19.
  • Curbing Dissent: It reflects a disturbing trend with regard to the use of hacking software against dissidents and adversaries. In 2019 also, Pegasus software was used to hack into HR & Dalit activists.
  • Individual safety: In the absence of privacy, the safety of journalists, especially those whose work criticizes the government, and the personal safety of their sources is jeopardised.
  • Self-Censorship: Consistent fear over espionage may grapple individuals. This may impact their ability to express, receive and discuss such ideas.
  • State-sponsored mass surveillance: The spyware coupled with AI can manipulate digital content in users’ smartphones. This in turn can polarize their opinion by the distant controllers.
  • National security: The potential misuse or proliferation has the same, if not more, ramifications as advanced nuclear technology falling into the wrong hands.

Snooping in India:  A Legality check

For Pegasus-like spyware to be used lawfully, the government would have to invoke both the IT Act and the Telegraph Act. Communication surveillance in India takes place primarily under two laws:

  1. Telegraph Act, 1885: It deals with interception of calls.
  2. Information Technology Act, 2000: It was enacted to deal with surveillance of all electronic communication, following the Supreme Court’s intervention in 1996.

Cyber security safeguards in India

  • National Cyber Security Policy: The policy was developed in 2013 to build secure and resilient cyberspace for India’s citizens and businesses.
  • Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In): The CERT-In is responsible for incident responses including analysis, forecasts, and alerts on cybersecurity issues and breaches.
  • Indian Cyber Crime Coordination Centre (I4C): The Central Government has rolled out a scheme for the establishment of the I4C to handle issues related to cybercrime in the country in a comprehensive and coordinated manner.
  • Budapest Convention: There also exists Budapest Convention on Cybercrime. However, India is not a signatory to this convention.

Issues over government involvement

  • It is worth asking why the government would need to hack phones and install spyware when existing laws already offer impunity for surveillance.
  • In the absence of parliamentary or judicial oversight, electronic surveillance gives the executive the power to influence both the subject of surveillance and all classes of individuals, resulting in a chilling effect on free speech.

Way forward

  • The security of a device becomes one of the fundamental bedrock of maintaining user trust as society becomes more and more digitized.
  • Constituting an independent high-level inquiry with credible members and experts that can restore confidence and conduct its proceedings transparently.
  • The need for judicial oversight over surveillance systems in general, and judicial investigation into the Pegasus hacking, in particular, is very essential.


  • We must recognize that national security starts with securing the smartphones of every single Indian by embracing technologies such as encryption rather than deploying spyware.
  • This is a core part of our fundamental right to privacy.
  • This intrusion by spyware is not merely an infringement of the rights of the citizens of the country but also a worrying development for India’s national security apparatus.


UPSC 2022 countdown has begun! Get your personal guidance plan now! (Click here)

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments


Join us across Social Media platforms.