Pegasus : A Threat to Indian Democracy ?

By : Aastha Satpathy


Pegasus, a word that has stirred up the nation and has raised various questions revolving the issue of privacy. Pegasus is a spyware or a hacking software which was developed by an Israeli Company NSO Group. This spyware has the capability to become a surveillance device if it finds its way into an individual’s phone. This spyware has the ability to copy one’s messages, record calls and maybe secretly film an individual through the camera or record one’s private conversation. This spyware was developed, marketed and licensed to governments by the company.  

Pegasus has a lot of history and it started from the year 2016 when certain researchers belonging from a Canadian cybersecurity organization named The Citizen Lab. They first observed the spyware on a smartphone belonging to a Human Rights Activist. Further, in the year 2018, that same organization had produced a report which discussed about almost 45 countries in which this spyware Pegasus and it was speculated that these 45 countries included the name India. Furthermore, in the year 2019, WhatsApp revealed that several journalists and human rights activists from India have been under surveillance by the operators who used Pegasus. Finally in July 2021, there was the establishment of an international investigative journalism called the Pegasus Project which disclosed that there were several governments who used this spyware to spy on the officials, politicians from the opposition, journalists, activists and many more people. It further disclosed that the Indian Government had used it to spy on almost 300 people between the duration of 2017 to 2019. 

It was stated that the intention of this software was to use against criminals and terrorists and was initially made available only to military, law enforcement and intelligence agencies belonging to countries having decent human rights records and it was not for the purpose of mass surveillance. 

In this article, I would attempt to discuss about the working of the software Pegasus and what is the debate surrounding it and attempt to establish if this is a threat to Indian Democracy.  

How it works ?

The Pegasus spyware can infect devices which are connected to the internet and this is in its basic form and a lot of speculation also state that an individual’s phone can also be infected without clicking any particular link or message. Furthermore, there are certain spyware apps disguise themselves as anti-theft applications which is used to track stolen or lost devices. Though any malware can be detected through any anti-virus software but spyware apps disguise themselves as being important and then send out the data which was stolen to central servers which was without the knowledge of the users.

The process of being infected by this spyware is not complicated as initially it began from SMS or iMessage which would provide a link to a website and if one clicks this link then it would deliver malicious virus that would affect and compromise the device. The main aim is to completely control the device’s operating system be it Android or Apple iOS devices.

Pegasus’s hacking feature is so smooth that an individual won’t be able to know if his device gets infected and this spyware could just get installed by a missed call as well and once the bug affects the device it deletes the call log hence, leaving no trace of the call. The moment this spyware affects the device it takes complete control of the device and it becomes surveillance device. Besides, the data being stolen, Pegasus can delete the information from the host device which includes the call logs, events etc., and ensures that this data is taken away from the individual without their knowledge. 

The spyware Pegasus is the ultimate surveillance instrument and if the government wants to spy on any individual then one can use this spyware as even the encrypted chats on WhatsApp are accessible to Pegasus. This spyware is so dangerous that it would still affect the device even if the device has the latest security software installed on the device and along with the data being stolen, the spyware can also use the device’s microphone and record calls and any other conversations and also secretly record the individual with its camera or even track one with GPS. 

These spyware apps easily disguise the spying code in the unauthorized versions of any premium apps. Such spyware apps take explicit permissions at the time of their installation and once installed, these keep themselves in the background and they continue functioning and in the same way Pegasus functions and infects the devices of the individuals and this happens through the commonly used apps such as WhatsApp, iMessage or SMS and this tries to gain the privileges from the root level and they become the administrators of the device. 

Later on, the software can following the instructions from a server present remotely can on it own turn on the camera and the microphone of the device and also look into the chats, contacts and any data backup. Recently, the spyware has the ability to infect a device by a ‘zero-click’ attack in which it does not require anything to be done by the user of the device. 


The Global spyware world has been working from behind the scenes and have been only exposed by journalists and human rights organizations and its claimed by the industry that they aim to fight crime and terrorism but there is a thin line between criminal and terror with critic and dissent. 

There is a need for governments to take actions in order to restrict the global spyware industry and ensure to have a transparent method of assessments of human rights for the development and transfer of any tools. Further, the governments should implement a certain level of consideration on the sale and transfer of spyware technology. Furthermore, governments need to lay down a regime which would clearly define the technologies and should also enable the public to put in their comments in this application to be exported. 

In recent times, the Pegasus scandal has become a major concern for our Democracy. The Right to Privacy is considered to be a Fundamental Right under Article 21 of the Constitution of India and makes up for an integral part of the right to life and liberty. The Right to Privacy is a very important right as it is all about having one’s own space but the present spyware takes away that right and controls the entire digital imprint of the individual. The spyware Pegasus completely takes over the control of the individual’s digital life. 

Pegasus is a weapon mainly cyber weapon which has the capability of changing the dynamics of the Indian Politics and even if it is a authorized spyware, Pegasus would still pose a national security risk and this makes it a threat to even the Democracy of India. Though the intention of this spyware was developed to be used against criminals and terrorists but now its being used against common people and people of power which is a complete violation of privacy. 

Recently, in India more than 40 Journalists, three opposition leaders and two ministers from the Prime Minister’s government were known to be on the list whose data has been compromised though it is still under screening but this spyware clearly violates the privacy of those individuals especially they being at position of authority and if their data is exposed then it makes it risky for the Indian Polity and also hinders the democracy of our country. Furthermore, an international investigation called the Pegasus Project exposed that there were more than 50,000 phone numbers which were under the purview by Pegasus and this list included almost 300 contacts which belonged to individuals from India.

The government has denied any allegations stating that it had no role in the surveillance by Pegasus and has also gone on to say that there is a proper procedure which is followed in situation of electronic communication and this works for the purpose of national security particularly when there is a public emergency or for the interest of the public safety and security.

In this situation, it is pertinent to know that the Right to Privacy makes up an integral part of the Right to Liberty and this fundamental right is the essence of Democracy.  This software by leaking the data of prominent people hinders their right to privacy and also keeps them in danger and just exposes their lives digitally. This spyware is so dangerous as it directly takes control of the individual’s life and besides the data being stolen it also record calls and conversations through the microphone and also access the camera of the individual’s phone and this device becomes a 24 hour surveillance device. 

This spyware making the surveillance device clearly violates the fundamental right to privacy of an individual which directly hits the essence of democracy of our country and the development of this spyware is slowly turning into a threat to our democracy. This spyware has clearly targeted people who are powerful or influential individuals and their data has been compromised or exposed and though they are influential individuals their right to privacy is still violated and their fundamental right affected which goes on to prick the essence of our Democracy. 


Pegasus is a spyware which is the most fast and dangerous spyware which was initially established with an intention to prosecute criminals and terrorists and help the governments of various countries to combat the same but everything has a positive and a negative usage and this spyware is slowly becoming dangerous to the integrity of the country. 

It is very important to control the usage of technology and ensure that it is controlled and protects the national integrity and also ensure the interest and public safety is intact and it is not violated thus not violating the essence of democracy of India. 

Technology has both negative and positive sides to it, when a software can be used for the benefit of the public or become a hindrance to their rights. In the instant case, Pegasus is violating the right to privacy of individuals which is the basic fundamental right available to individuals under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. 

Lastly, I would like to conclude by stating that technology can be either a boon or bane, and when spyware like Pegasus gets developed then its also the duty of the country and their government should ensure that the public is protected against their data being leaked and also lay down a clearly established procedure for the controlling of such spywares. It is the need of the hour to protect the fundamental rights of individuals and avoid the threat that is pricking the Democracy of India.