CPI(M) MP writes to IT panel chief, urges him to convene 'urgent meeting' over Apple alert

In light of recent events, CPI(M) MP John Brittas urges the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Communications and IT to investigate potential state-sponsored iPhone hacking attempts against opposition leaders.
John Brittas
John Brittas

New Delhi | CPI(M) MP John Brittas on Wednesday wrote to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Communications and IT chairperson, urging him to call an urgent meeting of the panel to look into the issue of several opposition leaders receiving an alert from Apple warning them of "state-sponsored attackers trying to remotely compromise" their iPhones.

Brittas, who is a member of the panel, said the issue raises alarm over potential attempts by state-supported hackers to compromise the security and privacy of these users' iPhones.

"The gravity of this situation cannot be understated, as it not only raises concerns about the security of personal data but also the potential implications for national security. This notification is reminiscent of the Pegasus spyware scandal, which targeted voices critical of the ruling dispensation, and is a matter of deep concern for our democracy," the Communist Party of India (Marxist) MP said.

"Given the sensitivity and implications of these shocking reports, I earnestly request your good self to take immediate action to comprehensively examine the issue by the Standing Committee as the fundamental rights of citizens are at stake. I believe that it is within the committee's remit to investigate," he said.

Brittas said the committee should look into the nature and credibility of the security threat identified by Apple, extent of vulnerability of Indian iPhone users to hacking attempts, potential involvement of state-supported hackers and their motivations, and adequacy of cyber security measures in place to protect the privacy and security of mobile phone users in India.

"The Right to Privacy has been held to be sacrosanct to human existence and an inalienable facet of human dignity and autonomy," he added.

On Tuesday, several opposition leaders, including TMC MP Mahua Moitra, CPI(M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury, Shiv Sena (UBT) MP Priyanka Chaturvedi, AAP's Raghav Chadha, Congress' Shashi Tharoor, said they received alerts from Apple about "state-sponsored attackers trying to remotely compromise" their iPhones.

Reacting to opposition leaders' claims, iPhone-maker Apple Inc said on Tuesday that it does not attribute threat notifications such as the ones received by some MPs belonging to opposition parties to any specific state-sponsored attackers.

It is possible that some threat notifications may be false alarms and some attacks may not be detected, it stated.

Reacting to the development, the Samyukt Kisan Morcha on Wednesday called it a violation of the fundamental right to privacy and slammed the central government.

"The alert issued by Apple Inc. on snooping and surveillance on leaders of the entire opposition and media persons has exposed the authoritarian and anti-constitutional attitude of the Narendra Modi-led Union Government. It reveals the violation of the fundamental right of privacy of all citizens...," the SKM said in a statement.

The SKM, the umbrella body under which farmers staged their year-long protest against the now-repealed farm laws at borders of Delhi in 2020-21, said, "Snooping and the accessibility to remotely access the mobile phones and other devices like laptop of any citizen with the intention to remotely plant some false and mischievous information in order to incriminate cannot be accepted in a democratic society."

They said it is the second time that Apple Inc. has sent out such notifications warning its users of a possible state sponsored attack.

"In 2021, both Apple and Google had sent out warning cautioning against attack made by Pegasus, a spyware manufactured by Israeli company NSO. On this issue, the committee assigned by the Supreme Court to investigate has said the government has refused to cooperate," it said.

This kind of action is "not new" under the current dispensation, it alleged, adding "the misuse of central agencies is enough to reveal the unscrupulous deeds of the Home Ministry."

The SKM called upon farmers and all sections of people to come forward and "build big struggles on their demands", adding that it is the only way to "protect democracy and expose the authoritarian rule".

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