The Baghel government wants to pin down the Israeli spyware firm NSO for intrusion of privacy but it does not know where to begin.

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Taran Sinha, a middle aged promotee IAS officer, Subrata Sahu who was till recently the CEC of Chhattisgarh and Anand Chabra, IGP, Raipur have been asked to investigate how world’s biggest spyware company operates in . If that was not humorous enough, these worthies have also been asked to investigate if the state government ever bought technology which goes at the rate of $55 million for a year! Only Saudi Arabia, Panama and Mexico have so far revealed that they have bought the spyware known as Pegasus from Israeli software company NSO.

The order earlier this week follows revelations that 1400 activists and journalists were under spyware Pegasus’ surveillance worldwide and five of these were citizens of CG.  This led chief minister to issue orders for investigation of how right to privacy of these citizens had been invaded. At the same time a Sunday newspaper from Delhi revealed that some people from Pegasus had visited Raipur and met police department officials in 2017. There is no official record of the vendor visit or discussion but if it did happen someone in the PHQ has to know.

The irony is that CG government is a respondent in a case filed by suspended ADG Mukesh Gupta  in the Supreme Court wherein he has alleged interception of his two daughters’ phones by the state. Only this week, Justice Arun Mishra came down heavily upon this as needless invasion of privacy and has asked the state government to explain. The state in turn is now investigating who leaked the letter of authority from Home Department sanctioning the interceptions to Mukesh Gupta who had produced it in the court.

The joke of course does not end there. Mukesh Gupta has been suspended for exceeding his brief as ADG EOW for exactly the same thing that he now accuses the state of using against him. He had been tapping the phones of bureaucrats, politicians and journalists, it is alleged. Now the Pegasus enquiry may ultimately reach his door step rounding off the circle of spyware investigations in CG.

When Citizen Lab from Toronto informed some of the activists under Pegasus surveillance in Maharashtra in September, the FaceBook case against NSO for disrupting Whatsapp came to light in India. “Vendors may have come to Raipur from NSO but there is no record of it and at any rate state does not have money to invest such amounts. It may come to some Rs 30 crore even for a month’s surveillance on select numbers,” says a senior police officer in the PHQ.

NSO is an Israeli software firm owned by a former Mossad agent Shalev Hulio. It has been active since roughly 2009 and its most successful attempts at phone tapping and spyware planting have come in South America. It is now valued at over $ one billion as a company. It may also have been behind cyber stalking Saudi Journalist Jamaal Khashoggi. Many activists believe that Indian government may have engaged NSO for surveillance and information gathering. The entire list of 100 or so people has not been revealed yet though even Priyanka Gandhi has claimed that she was being intercepted.

Wikileaks has revealed that it was the Indian government which first wrote to a firm called ‘Hacking Team’ in 2006, asking for a meeting and enquiring about their tools of intrusion. It wasn’t just the central government, but other state police departments were in touch with them to procure surveillance technologies. The emails show Andhra Pradesh Police Intelligence wanted to procure telephone interception tools right after Chandrababu Naidu’s phone calls were leaked to the press in July 2015.

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