By Sushil Kutty
There was Pegasus, now it’s Apple and if Pegasus was a winged horse, the nearly half-eaten Apple is a mobile phone by another name. The one similarity is that both come under “Snoopgate”, in other words surveillance without the target’s knowledge. And the target remains India’s Opposition, today identified as the INDIA bloc.
Is it a Modi government attempt to get into the INDI-Alliance strategy to defeat the NDA in upcoming elections? The Modi government has been allegedly trying to hack into the mobile phones of opposition leaders. The alleged surveillance went bust after several of the targets received “Apple alerts”, a cautionary notification that said you are “being targeted by state-sponsored attackers”.
Among the first ones to hit the alarm button was Congress MP Shashi Tharoor who posted “his” Apple alert on ‘X’. And then, like they say, after Tharoor, the deluge. More and more Apple alerts to sundry opposition leaders found their way to ‘X’. The net also widened to include certain journalists in the government’s bad books since ‘Day One’ of the Modi takeover of India that is Bharat.
The Apple alerts, however, steered clear of identifying the culprit. To the probing media, Apple said it cannot name a “specific state-sponsored organization”. That is to say, it wouldn’t be wise nor healthy to disclose and/or point a finger. Let sleeping dogs lie. Modi’s ministers found it “destructive politics”, but the government has started an investigation to get to “the bottom” of the Apple alerts.
Apple will now be probed – why did Apple send the notifications, what for and on whose instigation/instruction? So, now, Apple is in the dock for daring to warn opposition politicians including Shashi Tharoor, KC Venugopal, Mahua Moitra and Priyanka Chaturvedi of the Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray Shiv Sena, of their phones being surveilled.
Senior Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said “people in his office” also received the Apple alert. “We are not scared. You can do as much tapping as you want, I don’t care. If you want to take my phone, I will give it to you,” Gandhi told the media. Siddharth Varadarajan of news website ‘The Wire’ also got the Apple alert.
And Union IT minister Ashwini Vaishnaw asked Apple to join the Modi government’s investigation into the Apple alerts “with real, accurate information on the alleged state sponsored attacks”. The question is, did Apple take a bite bigger than what it could chew?
The American company said “state-sponsored attackers are very well-funded and sophisticated, and their attacks evolve over time”. According to Apple, such hackers target small numbers of devices. But being the Good Samaritan it would not “give more details” as it would help “state-sponsored attackers” to develop tech to evade detection.
Apple, however, admitted that some of the Apple alerts might be “false alarms” and other attacks might not have been detected at all. Does that mean opposition leaders should dump their mobile phones? Apple wouldn’t rush to hazard an answer. The Opposition’s suspicions have to be verified first, only then can attribution be made to a specific entity and call it state-sponsored.
Clearly, Apple would rather stay silent on who did it, at least for the time being. The fact remains that the Apple alerts posted on ‘X’ by opposition leaders point to a possible government hand. No BJP politician received an Apple alert. Like one opposition politician said “even the algorithm was selective in its choice!”
It’s true, no BJP leader nor did a Modi minister receive an Apple alert. News only came later that Union Commerce minister Piyush Goyal had also received an Apple alert. Minister of State Rajeev Chandrashekhar said “Apple has to answer a number of questions about the devices it claimed were secure”. Like said, Apple is in the dock for sending out the alerts.
The Opposition has linked the surveillance to the general elections. Opposition leaders say that from the perspective of the relentless attacks on the opposition parties, especially after the formation of the INDI-Alliance, the latest edition of “Snoopgate” must be tied to the 2024 general elections, which “the BJP suspects it might lose.”
BJP leaders call allegations of government involvement “baseless” and that Apple must clarify what it meant by the notifications. “The opposition does not have any issue to take on the government and, therefore, they are resorting to making these false allegations,” said Amit Malviya, BJP’s IT Cell head.
Before Apple, there was Pegasus which was allegedly busy trying to access opposition leaders’ phones. The Pegasus came from Israel. Apple is American. For some reason, India, Israel and the United States are an “item” and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi happens to be the Apple of both US President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s eye. That being said, the opposition leaders will sleep better only after the elections are done and dusted with. Nobody likes his/her smartphone keyed to snoop on him/her. And if the purpose is to secure an electoral advantage, it’s not just borderline crime. (IPA Service)