Apple notifications raise concerns over unlawful surveillance in India

Apple has notified its users in India about their devices being possibly under attack of suspicious malware. Most prominent targets include human rights defenders, journalists and politicians.

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Apple’s recent global notifications have raised concerns of possible unlawful targeted surveillance. These notifications were sent to individuals worldwide, including Indian opposition leaders and journalists, warning them of potential state-sponsored attackers targeting their iPhones. 

Likhita Banerji, Researcher and Advisor on technology and human rights at Amnesty International highlighted that these Apple threat notifications underscore the persistent misuse of invasive spyware by state actors. Their targets often include human rights defenders, journalists, and politicians. Despite past scandals, a troubling lack of accountability persists, fostering an environment of impunity.

In India, civil society organizations, journalists, and activists have been subjected to unchecked and unlawful surveillance using spyware technology, stifling human rights and freedom of expression. The reports of prominent figures receiving Apple notifications are particularly problematic, given the upcoming elections. Banerji stresses that such unlawful surveillance cannot be allowed to persist.

Amnesty International calls for global governments to ban spyware that cannot be audited or restricted independently. Additionally, it urges the prompt and impartial investigation of Apple’s security notifications by independent authorities to curb the abuse of spyware technology.

Why does it matter?

In September of this year, Apple notified iPhone users working for Russian media outlets, particularly independent ones, cautioning them about potential Pegasus spyware compromise. Apple strongly urged its users to update their software and learn to utilize ‘Lockdown mode’ to prevent possible infections. 

In 2021, Amnesty International found the utilization of NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware on mobile phones, including iPhones, belonging to Indian journalists and civil society members. This revelation followed an investigation by India’s Technical Committee, which the Supreme Court of India appointed. However, as of 2022, the committee’s findings remain undisclosed, citing a lack of cooperation from Indian authorities.