News

Controversial Pegasus spyware: Govt. dismisses using the spyware  

  • Local intel agencies may be using different methods: Keheliya  
  • UN Human Rights Chief expresses concerns over rights violations 

By Maheesha Mudugamuwa 

Amidst a hacking scandal that has roiled governments globally, the Sri Lankan Government dismissed allegations that it was also using the controversial Pegasus phone surveillance software to spy on people.  

Denying allegations levelled by the Opposition claiming that the Government had begun using the controversial software, Cabinet Spokesman Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella stressed that it was a wild accusation made by the Opposition which has no basis whatsoever.  

Speaking to The Sunday Morning, the Minister said the Government had no such necessity to spy on people by hacking their devices.  

He said: “The intelligence services might be using different methods for the security of the country but the allegations levelled against the Government are baseless.” 

However, the Government has not yet commenced any probe as yet, The Sunday Morning learnt.  

It was Opposition lawmaker Harin Fernando who, several months back, raised concerns regarding the spyware and alleged that the Government had begun using the controversial software in Sri Lanka as well.  

Talk of the controversial spyware intensified last week following several reports in the foreign media that revealed that several sitting presidents, a former president, journalists, civil society, and human rights activists were being spied on through Pegasus worldwide. 

Pegasus is a hacking software that is developed, marketed, and licensed to governments around the world by Israeli company NSO Group. It has the capability to infect billions of phones running either iOS or Android operating systems.  

The earliest version of Pegasus, discovered by researchers in 2016, infected phones through what is called spear-phishing text messages or emails that trick a target into clicking on a malicious link.   

United Nations (UN) Human Rights Chief Michelle Bachelet last week issued a statement expressing concerns over the use of spyware and the violation of human rights as a result. 

“Various parts of the UN Human Rights system, including my own office, have repeatedly raised serious concerns about the dangers of authorities using surveillance tools from a variety of sources supposed to promote public safety in order to hack the phones and computers of people conducting legitimate journalistic activities, monitoring human rights, or expressing dissent or political opposition…Journalists and human rights defenders play an indispensable role in our societies, and when they are silenced, we all suffer,” the statement read.