SL Not Decided to Go for Pegasus Spyware – Rambukwella
Minister Keheliya Rambukwella said the Israeli Pegasus spyware, created by the NSO Group of Technologies, based in Tel Aviv, had created controversies in many countries and had infringed the lives of journalists, rights activists and even Heads of State.
He hinted to Ceylon Today, “It depends on whether the intelligence unit wants this application or not, before it is taken up for discussion.”
Pegasus was introduced in 2016 and it can read text messages, track calls, collect passwords, location tracking, access the target device’s microphone and camera, and gather additional information from apps on a user’s device remotely. Several media groups revealed at the beginning of July that NSO Group had sold access to Pegasus to oppressive regimes around the world who abused it to spy on journalists, human rights activists, and political rivals.
Pegasus was found on slain Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s fiancée’s phone. Khashoggi was a columnist for Washington Post before he was brutally assassinated inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October 2018.
Relentlessly questioned by local Media regarding Pegasus, Minister Rambukwella said that with rapidly improving technology, the possibility of the software being used in Sri Lanka cannot be ruled out.
On the Government’s stance on purchasing Pegasus for Sri Lanka, he said, “If the Government’s intelligence unit has made a request, then, of course, they will have to, but so far such request has not been made by them. If the Intelligence Unit of the Government wants it, then they will have discussed about it,” he stressed.
To the question on whether the Government intends to purchase the Pegasus spyware, though not ruling it out, he said, “As technology advances, the best technology is what everyone will want to purchase and that is happening all over the world.”
“As far as intelligence is concerned, whatever they request for their work they may ask but certainly not to spy on personal lives,” he assured.
“To my knowledge, we are not buying it, but if a reasonable request is made on a certain basis, then the Government will have to decide. The entire intelligence network in the world works that way,” he further said.
When asked if the government intelligence made such a request he stressed, “not to my knowledge”.
Reportedly, Pegasus has been used to spy on 50,000 targets, including Heads of State, reporters and activists. Many Indian journalists have suspected that the Pegasus is doing it rounds in their country too.
He also opined that private parties cannot buy Pegasus unless the Government approves it. “Of course many things are purchased undercover and I have not yet studied the Pegasus app,” he added. He underlined that the Government is not interested in spying on personal lives.
But such a remote device can also infringe into personal lives and monitor their activities which are violations of their rights. When asked, “Can it happen in Sri Lanka?” The Minister replied, “That can happen but the Government stance is that we are not to spy on the people.”
Selling Pegasus app to Governments and private parties’ needs the approval of the Israeli Government first. Hence, Rambukwela noted that private parties cannot buy from Israel without the consent of their Government.
An investigation by the journalism non-profit organisation ‘Forbidden Stories’ found that prominent figures, including the French President Emmanuel Macron and Roula Khalaf, editor of the Financial Times, were included on a database of names selected for possible surveillance by NSO clients.