NEW DELHI: Nine activists, including eight engaged with the Elgar Parishad case, were targeted by a spyware, which aimed to monitor their communications, according to a report released by
. Amnesty could not determine the actor behind the attack. At least three of them were also targeted with
’s Pegasus spyware in 2019, it added.
“Between January and October 2019, each of the targets were sent spearphishing emails containing malicious links that, if opened, would have installed NetWire, a commercially available spyware,” said the report prepared in collaboration with Canada-based research firm Citizen Lab.
Those impacted include lawyers and activists Nihalsing B Rathod, Degree Prasad Chouhan, Yug Mohit Choudhary, and Ragini Ahuja; activist and academics Partho Sarothi Ray and PK Vijayan; a journalist who wanted to stay anonymous, and a human rights collective —
Legal Aid Group (Jaglag), which is accessed by all of its members, including lawyer Shalini Gera and Isha Khandelwal.
Software Freedom Law Centre (SFLC) legal director Prasanth Sugathan told TOI that “this (spyware attack) is definitely problematic. A data protection law alone is not sufficient here. We need a surveillance law with proper judicial oversight”. He said that while there are provisions under the Information Technology Act to prosecute people who gain “unauthorised access” to a digital device, it often becomes difficult to identify the actor behind these attacks. “Another problem is that the actor may be based outside your jurisdiction,” Sugathan added.
Amnesty said the spearfishing mail was sent to the activists by impersonating the name of an activist that may be known by the targets. “Other spearphishing emails came from the e-mail IDs pretending to be journalists or masquerading as officials from local courts,” it added. According to Amnesty, eight of the activists have been calling for the “release of other prominent activists most of whom have been imprisoned in Maharashtra since 2018”