In a recent development, Indian authorities, purportedly aligned with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, have thrust Apple into the spotlight by questioning the accuracy of its internal threat algorithms. The Washington Post reports that the investigation has now extended to scrutinizing the security of Apple’s devices, marking a contentious episode between the tech giant and the Indian government.
Security Concerns and Political Interference: The genesis of this controversy can be traced back to October, when Apple issued warnings to journalists and opposition politicians, suggesting that state-sponsored hackers might have infiltrated their devices. This move triggered a cascade of events that has put Apple’s security measures under public scrutiny. Behind closed doors, however, government officials took a more assertive approach.
Alleged attempts to Mitigate Political Fallout: The Post’s investigation reveals that Indian officials contacted Apple’s representatives in the country with the explicit aim of pressuring the company to mitigate the political impact of its hacking warnings. Furthermore, they reportedly summoned an Apple security expert to propose alternative explanations for the warnings—ones that would not implicate the government. This behind-the-scenes maneuvering underscores the high-stakes nature of the intersection between technology, security, and politics.
Targets of Surveillance: Journalists and Politicians Critical of the Government: A common thread among those who received Apple’s warnings was their critical stance towards Prime Minister Modi’s government. The journalists and politicians who shared their experiences on social media found themselves at the nexus of technology, political dissent, and potential surveillance. Notably, Amnesty International’s examination of journalist Anand Mangnale’s phone revealed the presence of Pegasus spyware, developed by the Israeli NSO Group. While Apple did not explicitly attribute the attacks to the Indian government, Pegasus is primarily sold to governments and government agencies.
History of Pegasus Deployments: The Washington Post’s report sheds light on the broader context of Pegasus usage in India. The ruling political party has neither confirmed nor denied the use of Pegasus to spy on journalists and political opponents. However, this isn’t the first instance where critics of Modi’s government have fallen victim to the Pegasus spyware. In 2021, a collaborative investigation, known as the Pegasus Project, exposed the spyware on the phones of individuals with a history of opposing and criticizing the government.
Conclusion: The Apple-India imbroglio underscores the complex entanglement of technology, security, and political interests. As governments increasingly leverage sophisticated tools for surveillance, the delicate balance between national security and individual privacy becomes a focal point of global discussions. The unfolding events in India illuminate the challenges posed by state-sponsored surveillance and the need for transparency and accountability in the deployment of such powerful technologies.