An Indian-led initiative is trying to ensure that the scandal surrounding the large-scale use of NSO Group’s Pegasus cyber-weapon does not simply die down (as previous scandals have).
We reproduce this call to organise and continue campaigning around some basic principles.
Dear friends, dear friends,
Warm greetings from India. You all know that we are going through a steady erosion of our democracy led by a right wing (Hindu) government under the leadership of Narendra Modi. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), along with its vast network of ideological supporters in India and abroad, seeks to establish a Hindutva majoritarian state based on the deprivation of its social, religious and other minorities. The groundwork has been laid: citizenship rules have been changed, constitutional protections for minorities are being steadily withdrawn, and hate crimes have become a daily occurrence. Anyone who opposes the supremacist version of this new Indian state regime is being persecuted and punished by legal and illegal means. It is in this context that we write to you today: The Pegasus scandal has revealed that more than 300 Indian journalists, activists, opposition leaders and civilians, the entire top echelon of democratic dissent against the current regime, were being spied on with Israeli cyber weapons bought with public money.
There is something disconcerting about the revelations, though none of us are really surprised. We in India have long been aware that technological collaboration between India and Israel is not just a matter of exchanging security capabilities as many would have us believe. The parent entities of the One India movement have long maintained deep ties with the Israeli apartheid state. The current import of NSO Group’s Pegasus to India, along with many other Israeli policing and warfare technologies, is a direct result of the Indian government’s new policy of positing Israel as an ideological and governance model. Two recent examples are worth mentioning: India’s Citizenship Amendment Act 2019 mirrors the Israeli Law of Return, and the repeal of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir has initiated “Israel-style settlements” in what was once the only province where India’s Hindu population was a minority and for this reason protected.
Ideological exchanges are not new, but the wholesale adoption of security methodologies is, with our new India being the world’s largest importer of Israeli arms, spending about a billion dollars of public money every year. This exorbitant exchange of war and repression technologies has continued unabated, even as India has lost more than half a million people due to Covid-related mismanagement and a severe medical infrastructure deficit. As in other cases of government apathy for people’s lives and rights, people who tried to report on the Covid crisis were criminally prosecuted or beaten by mobs. The story continues: all dissenters are treated as enemies of the state and the worst dehumanising treatment is reserved for them. The recent revelations of the Bhima Koregaon case, have shown that state agencies are going to the extent of planting evidence to incriminate human rights defenders who have spent their entire lives living and defending the voices of the most marginalised sections of the country. The Pegasus project has shown us a glimpse of the enormous technological capacity in the hands of state agencies to violate the privacy of citizens, as well as the lack of moral scruples of those in power to deploy military grade weapons to silence the truth and those who speak it, and that too using public money. We refuse to accept this in silence!
While we resist and do our best, we know very well that we cannot be alone in this struggle. Only a global movement will be able to raise the question of the legitimacy of cyber weapons, in particular those coming from Israel. The question we ask ourselves is: do we want these weapons among us, and can they ever be used for any good? We are also convinced that these weapons, developed in a context of brutal repression and apartheid, can only be used for such purposes.
We therefore call on organisations, concerned individuals and people’s movements to join together in a global campaign to impose a moratorium on the trade in spyware. We invite you to sign the declaration below to build together a convergence of global movements opposing the trade and use of spyware and cyberweapons, including NSO Group’s Pegasus.
Text of the statement:
These are not security products. They do not provide any kind of protection, any kind of prophylaxis. They don’t make vaccines: all they sell is the virus”.
Edward Snowden on commercial spyware
The Pegasus investigation has revealed the extent of Israeli cyber-weapons penetration against journalists, human rights defenders, opposition leaders and heads of state around the world. Contrary to the claims of the creators of these spyware programmes, it is clear that Pegasus was used primarily by authoritarian regimes or such figures within governments, and only for anti-democratic purposes: to weaken the voices of the people and suppress both the truth and those who speak it.
It is no wonder that Pegasus’ presence or instrumental role is found in the most serious violations of current times: symbolised by the brazen murder of journalists Jamal Khashoggi and Cecilio Pineda Birto. Research in 2016 and 2021 reflects that half of the world’s countries have deployed Pegasus against those they considered threats to their authority. Between 2016 and now, despite multiple lawsuits and condemnations from global bodies, NSO Group has continued to thrive, receiving Israel’s endorsement and becoming part of the unicorn startup club with a $1 billion valuation.
But NSO Group is just the tip of the iceberg. The production and export of “intrusion software”, once the preserve of elite state intelligence units and security firms seeking to protect resources and people from hackers, is now an unregulated global industry worth billions of dollars in worldwide commerce. The numbers reflect the proliferation of such weapons that seek to deliver our most intimate thoughts and actions to regimes willing to pay to control them. And the proliferation shows: in recent years, these spying programmes have been instrumental in breaking up protests, deportations, torture and assassinations in Hong Kong, Egypt, Myanmar, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Ethiopia, Libya, Turkey, Hungary and the United States, to name but a few. We cannot forget India, which has not only used Pegasus against all breath of opposition to the current Hindu nationalist regime, but has also used spyware to criminalise activists who have spent their lives working with and for the people, including the 83-year-old Jesuit priest, Father Stan Swamy, who died in judicial custody last month.
The shock of having been duped, all over the world, has yet to sink in: how is it possible that such anti-people spyware could have been developed, exported and bought by governments with public money, and then weaponised against our best voices? As stories emerge of how these intrusions have been used as weapons of attack, here are some ideas of which we are quite sure:
This is not a “misuse” of spyware/cyberweapons: these technologies are designed for repression. Produced and sold in the name of security, these technologies are systematically used for mass surveillance, as well as targeted spying and incapacitation, as has been publicly known since Edward Snowden’s revelations about the US National Security Agency.
It is no coincidence that Israel is the market leader and spearhead of these military products being sold to the world. Like the NSO Group, multiple Israeli cyber-espionage companies are founded and staffed by the Israeli military’s Unit 8200, which is responsible for cyber-espionage. Like NSO, these companies work in collaboration with the Israeli Ministry of Defence. Sponsored by the Israeli apartheid state and part of its diplomacy, these companies critically assist the Israeli regime’s colonialism in the region. Why are Israeli arms the market leader? Illegal occupation, apartheid and colonialism against the Palestinian people provide the perfect “sample population” for research, development and “field testing” of such technologies of subjugation, particularly cyber weapons such as Pegasus.
The only possible response to the unanimity with which governments around the world are legitimising the use of such weapons is an international solidarity of peoples and popular struggles, especially those who are targeted by these spying programmes for their defence of human rights and for speaking truth to power. What we want is a total halt, a global moratorium on the production and trade of such weapons, echoing the call made by UN experts, human rights bodies, media institutions, academics and civil society groups around the world.
It is time we are able to see through the façade of “security” to clearly see these weapons for what they are: tools of repression, whose sole purpose is to silence peoples’ voices. We must put an end to these weapons!
In the past, these efforts have ended police training exchange programmes with Israel, pressured governments to end contracts with Israeli arms companies, and brought together people’s tribunals over Israel’s aid to militarisation in Latin America. Only a global and intersectional struggle can put an end to the proliferation of the indefensible espionage industry.
Our struggles are connected and together we are stronger.
To sign on with signatures here (page in Spanish)