In a concerning turn of events, Apple finds itself at the center of a controversy as the Indian government questions the validity of iPhone hacking warnings issued to independent Indian journalists and opposition politicians in October. The government’s response included public doubts about Apple’s internal threat algorithms, an investigation into Apple device security, and private efforts to soften the political impact of the warnings.
According to sources, senior Modi administration officials reportedly called Apple’s India representatives, demanding the company help provide alternative explanations for the warnings. The officials also summoned an Apple security expert for a meeting in New Delhi to further press the company on the matter. The intense effort to discredit and strong-arm Apple has raised concerns about the extent to which Silicon Valley tech giants can face pressure from the assertive leadership of populous countries like India.
The incident sheds light on the dangers faced by government critics in India and the measures taken by the Modi administration to deflect suspicions of hacking against perceived adversaries. Many of the individuals who received Apple’s warnings had publicly criticized Prime Minister Modi or his allies, including Gautam Adani, a prominent Indian energy and infrastructure tycoon.
Digital rights groups, industry workers, and journalists view the situation as emblematic of the challenges facing government critics in India. The recent episode highlights the lengths to which the Modi administration is willing to go to avoid suspicions of engaging in hacking activities against perceived enemies.
The targeted individuals, including journalists Anand Mangnale and Ravi Nair from the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, have been vocal critics of Modi and Adani. A forensic analysis revealed that Mangnale’s phone was infiltrated within 24 hours of an inquiry made to Adani for a story. The spyware used was Pegasus, developed by the Israeli company NSO Group.
While the Modi government has never confirmed or denied using spyware, evidence suggests the use of powerful surveillance tools. The recent reporting, in collaboration with Amnesty, uncovered fresh cases of Pegasus infections among Indian journalists and opposition politicians, adding to concerns about unchecked spyware abuse in the country.
Apple’s confrontation with the Indian government highlights the challenges tech companies face when caught between the interests of powerful governments and the protection of user privacy. As the Indian government faces increasing scrutiny over its alleged use of spyware, the episode raises questions about transparency, accountability, and the broader implications for freedom of expression and the right to privacy in the country.