India goes shopping for new spyware system that rivals Pegasus: FT report – The Indian Express

The Centre is looking to acquire a new spyware system with a lower profile than the controversial Pegasus and has set aside a budget of up to $120 million for the new contracts, Financial Times has reported.
According to FT, officials are on the lookout for a “less exposed” spyware system than Pegasus, which is developed by Israel’s NSO Group and was at the centre of a controversy last year after reports suggested that some politicians, human rights activists and journalists were on the list of its potential targets.
The Government had responded to these reports calling them “sensational”, and seeming to be an attempt “to malign Indian democracy and its well-established institutions”. The Ministry of Defence also said it did not have any transaction with Israel-based NSO Group.
The discussion, which, according to the FT report, are “in advanced stages,” comes amid US attempts to clamp down on the shadowy $12-bn spyware industry that it believes is an increasing threat to its national security.
Citing “people familiar with the move,” the report said, Indian officials have shown an interest in an array of Pegasus rivals including a system called Predator developed by Greece-headquartered Intellexa which has used Israeli military veterans to help develop it.
Others in contention are Quadream and Cognyte, which was spun out of publicly traded Verint, the report said.
The report said that Predator is at the centre of a snooping scandal that has ensnared Greece’s spy chief and prime minister. According to Citizen Lab and Facebook, Predator is already operational in countries including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Madagascar and Oman. Quadream, as per the report, was approved for a sale to Saudi Arabia after the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
India “could soon put out requests for proposals inviting spyware firms from across the world to bid for a contract” and the process could also attract spyware firms that exist in Australia, Italy, France, Belarus and Cyprus, among other countries, as per the report.
Governments in US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, are believed to have spyware capabilities developed by “their own intelligence agencies rather than private military contractors,” the report said.
FT said that Quadream and Intellexa could not be reached for comment. Cognyte did not respond to a request for comment. India’s Defence Ministry declined to comment.
Pegasus, when planted on a target’s mobile phone, can intercept communications made on a range of messaging platforms including WhatsApp, iMessage, Facebook, Skype, Viber, and Gmail, among others.
Last year, a Supreme Court-appointed committee, which probed allegations of unauthorised use of Pegasus software for surveillance, found no conclusive evidence on use of the spyware in phones examined by it. But, it noted that the Central Government had “not co-operated” with the panel.
Both Ashwani Vaishnaw, the Minister of Electronics and Information Technology, and his predecessor Ravi Shankar Prasad have reiterated that all electronic interception follows due process.
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