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India Supreme Court orders panel to investigate Pegasus spyware scandal

India Supreme Court orders panel to investigate Pegasus spyware scandal
Indian opposition leader Rahul Gandhi is seen during a protest in New Delhi, India, on August 5. His number was among thousands that were purportedly included in the Pegasus spyware hacking case. File Photo by Harish Tyagi/EPA-EFE

Oct. 27 (UPI) -- India's Supreme Court created an independent committee on Wednesday to investigate accusations that spyware that was sold to the government was used to illegally monitor the phones of lawmakers, activists and journalists.

The court's order came after several petitions that called for an investigation into the Pegasus spyware scandal, which emerged a few months ago.

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The three-member panel will look into claims that some of the surveillance targets were clients of the Israeli surveillance firm NSO Group, and whether India's government used the spyware against its citizens.

The Supreme Court gave the committee two months to investigate.

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NSO's Pegasus spyware is intended to surveil potential terrorist activity. In July, a global media consortium revealed in the Pegasus Project that hundreds of Indian phone numbers appeared on a global list that totaled 50,000.

Included on the list were India's main opposition leader Rahul Gandhi, election commission official Ashok Lavasa and and founders of an independent media outlet that contributed to The Pegasus Project.

The spyware allows a phone to be hacked without action by the target and opens access to the phone's cameras and microphones.

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Several targets petitioned India's Supreme Court for the investigation.

After it was asked by the high court to confirm use of the spyware, the Indian government set up a committee of cybersecurity and computer science professors to look into the matter. The Supreme Court has criticized the government for its "vague denial" of illegal surveillance.

The Pegasus accusations began two years ago when WhatsApp found that hundreds of its users had been targeted.

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