Three phone numbers belonging to the Supreme Court staffer, who had accused former Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi of sexual harassment in April 2019, were selected as potential targets for surveillance by an official – but unidentified – Indian agency that is a customer of the Israel-based-NSO Group, The Wire reported.
NSO is best known for its Pegasus spyware, which it says it only sells to “vetted governments” and not to private entities, though the company will not confirm which governments it sells its controversial product to.
The staffer, whose name is being withheld, was dismissed from service in December 2018, weeks after she said she rebuffed the judge’s advances. She recorded her allegations in a sworn affidavit on April 20, 2019 and was marked as a person of interest just days after this, an analysis of a leaked list of phone numbers accessed by French media non-profit Forbidden Stories revealed.
The leaked records show that eight other phone numbers belonging to her husband and two of his brothers were also marked as possible candidates for surveillance in the same week, when her allegations against the CJI were first reported, The Wire said.
All told, a total of 11 numbers associated with the complainant and her family were selected, making them among the largest cluster of associated phone numbers in the India-leg of the Pegasus Project, a special investigation coordinated by Forbidden Stories and 16 international media partners with the assistance of Amnesty International’s technical team.
The Wire said her presence in the list, and the timing of her selection, suggest that the reason she and her family became persons of interest is because she went public with serious allegations against the sitting Chief Justice of India.
Her selection also underlines the point that privacy advocates have been making for some time: That the use of highly intrusive and illegal means of surveillance has become routine in situations for which there is not even a remote ‘public emergency’ or ‘national security’ alibi, the report added.
Soon after her complaint, the young woman appeared before a specially constituted in-house committee in what was meant to be a confidential process. If indeed her phones were successfully compromised, this means the agency involved would have had the ability to eavesdrop on privileged conversations with her lawyers.
The Wire said the affidavit, which the woman sent to 22 sitting judges of the Supreme Court, documented what she claimed was the deliberate and drawn-out victimisation of her husband and other family members after she spurned “unsolicited” sexual advances by Justice Gogoi.
The woman’s husband and brother-in-law both worked for Delhi Police at the time of her alleged sexual harassment and were suspended in January 2019, soon after her dismissal, as part of what she alleged was a vendetta against her.
This vendetta, she had said, included being charged and arrested on the basis of a fabricated criminal complaint that was eventually dropped for the lack of evidence, the report added.