Over a dozen activists and journalists, including Anand Teltumbde, Bela Bhatia and Shalini Gera, have confirmed that they were intimated about they being the target of surveillance using 'Pegasus' through WhatsApp.
Many of the activists pointed fingers at the government and said it should explain whether it was behind the surveillance as those from Citizen Lab, a research group affiliated with the University of Toronto working with WhatsApp, informed them that Pegasus is very expensive and that it is sold to official agencies only.
Meanwhile, it also came to light that the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on Thursday told an RTI seeker that it has no information available with it whether it had purchased of Pegasus or whether there was any such proposal earlier. The RTI was filed by one Saurav Das on October 23 and the response came within a week.
In a statement, Internet Freedom Foundation said this raises "extremely disturbing questions" about likely illegal hacking by unknown government agencies or other actors operating in India and suggests "flagrant disregard" for the rule of law and contempt for the fundamental right to privacy. "The Government must also clarify which law empowers it to install such spyware," it said.
Prominent Dalit intellectual Teltumbde, who was named in the Bhima Koregaon case, was one of those targeted. He said he was informed that his phone was compromised using spyware and it was a sophisticated operation.
Bela Bhatia, a Chhattisgarh-based activist, said she had received the call around a month ago informing her about the surveillance and it was indicated that some government agency was behind it. She said she was told that she was targeted with spyware sometime around May.
Another activist Shalini Gera, who is also based in Chhattisgarh, said she was contacted by Citizen Lab earlier this month and informed her about the security risk. Gera had received a video call two-three months earlier from an international number, which was said to be an attempt to instal Pegasus in her phone.
Former BBC journalist Shubhranshu Choudhary, a peace activist, was another person who was approached by WhatsApp. WION TV journalist Sidhant Sibal was also target and the channel had said this on Twitter soon after news of WhatsApp approaching a court in California against NSO, who developed Pegasus.
Lawyers appearing for accused in Bhima Koregaon case Nihalsingh Rathod and Ankit Grewal, activists Degree Prasad Chouhan, Kabir Kala Manch member Rupali Jadhav, Delhi University professor Saroj Giri, PUDR activist Ashish Gupta and PUDR activist Seema Azad were among others who were approached by WhatsApp and Citizen Lab.