Amnesty International said today it “categorically stands by Pegasus Project findings” and rejected “false rumours pushed on social media”.
The clarification came as reports and social media posts suggested the human rights body had denied saying that a leaked list of phone numbers was linked to the Israeli NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware.
Amnesty said it was putting out the statement “in response to false allegations on social media and inaccurate media stories” linked to the Pegasus Project.
“Amnesty International categorically stands by the findings of the Pegasus Project, and that the data is irrefutably linked to potential targets of NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware. The false rumours being pushed on social media are intended to distract from the widespread unlawful targeting of journalists, activists and others that the Pegasus Project has revealed,” the statement said.
Earlier, an Israeli media report had quoted Amnesty as saying that the list was of numbers of interest to NSO customers, or “the kind of people NSO clients might like to spy on”.
“Amnesty and the investigative journalists and media outlets they work with have made clear from the outset in very clear language that this is a list of numbers marked as numbers of interest to NSO customers, meaning they are the kind of people NSO clients might like to spy on,” a statement cited in the report had said.
“The list contains the kind of people NSO’s clients would ordinarily be interested in spying on, but the list isn’t specifically a list of people who were spied on — though a very small subset of people on the list were indeed spied on,” the report quoted Amnesty as saying.
The statement was widely shared on social media, and reported on by other media houses, with supporters of the ruling BJP using it to discredit reports by The Wire, Washington Post and other media organisations that are part of the “Pegasus Project”.
Over the past few days, these reports have revealed, citing a leaked NSO database, that the numbers of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and other opposition politicians, poll strategist Prashant Kishor, two union ministers, Trinamool Congress leader Abhishek Banerjee and some 40 journalists were selected as potential targets of snooping. There are 300 numbers in India but no evidence that all numbers were hacked.
The government has denied any role in snooping. There is no substance to the reports of spying, said new IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw in parliament on Monday, hours before he was revealed to be one of the potential targets.
Yesterday, NSO — which claims it supplies its software only to “vetted” governments for control of terrorism and crime — reiterated that the list is “not a list of targets or potential targets of Pegasus. The numbers in the list are not related to NSO group. Any claim that a name in the list is necessarily related to a Pegasus target or Pegasus potential target is erroneous and false”.