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BRS uses spyware like Pegasus to silence critics: Praveen Kumar | #hacking | #cybersecurity | #infosec | #comptia | #pentest | #hacker


Hyderabad: Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) Telangana unit president and former IPS officer RS Praveen Kumar on Saturday alleged that the state government is attempting to hack his phone using a spyware.

Last year, it came to light that phones and other digital equipment owned by activists who were arrested for their alleged involvement in Bhima Koregaon violence was infiltrated using NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware. The use of Pegasus reignited questions about the use of malware attacks against dissidents and government critics in India.

The retired Additional Director General of Police (DGP) said in a statement issued on Monday that he had received an email to that effect from Apple Inc., his mobile phone manufacturing company.

“ALERT: State-sponsored attackers may be targeting your phone. Apple believes you are being targeted by State-sponsored attackers who are trying to remotely compromise the iPhone associated with your Apple ID. These attackers are likely targeting you individually because of who you are and what you do,” the message from the company read, according to the state BSP chief. 

Furthermore, Apple suggested that if the phone was compromised, attackers could remotely access sensitive data, communications, or even the camera or microphone.

Praveen Kumar accused the governments of targeting him for questioning them on behalf of the people, saying that the BRS-led State government and the BJP government at the Centre are unable to digest the fact that the BSP has been receiving positive responses from the people on a daily basis.

In light of the recent accusations, Siasat.com sat down to speak to the ex-IPS officer to discuss his views on politics, surveillance and the Bharat Rashtra Samithi’s (BRS) governance.

A couple of days ago you had remarked that your phone was hacked by the state government and took to Twitter to write about the message sent to you by Apple.Inc. Do you have any other proof of hacking by the state?

No, I don’t. Hackers do not leave footprints. However since I have worked in the police department, I know how hacking of this nature works. I have also been informed by others that my phone is being monitored. I was always viewed by BRS as an enemy and the attempts to take over my phone intensified since I took over as the chief of BSP.

Also, a hacking attempt of this nature cannot be done without state backing. This is just a part of BRS’ continuous attack against me.

If what you are saying is to be believed, why would the state government be interested in hacking your phone?

Simply because the government isn’t comfortable with me. Neither the Centre nor the state government. I have been questioning the state government on its corruption in different cases be it Kaleshwaram, the Liquor scam or generally speaking, the chief minister’s extravagance. I have also spoken against the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) saffronisation of education.

They know I cannot be bought, politically speaking I cannot be coerced. I have always stood for justice, equality, liberty and fraternity and hence I am their enemy.

Speaking of BJP, less than a month ago BRS MLC K Kavitha called you among others like KA Paul, YS Sharmila, “saffron parrots with orange arrows.” You have been saying that the BJP views you as an enemy. Would you elaborate on the MLC’s statements?

(Laughs) If I was a saffron parrot, I would not be targeted by rightist forces in India. These forces have spewed venom against me and complained to the President, the home minister and even the then Governor ESL Narasimhan.

It was chief minister K Chandrashekar Rao (KCR) who defended PM Modi’s demonetisation, the Union’s farm laws. It is Kavitha and her family who are saffron parrots. Not me. And just like the Centre, the state government is also sponsoring hacking with Pegasus-like software. The state, just like the Centre, is capable of having snooping technologies and all of them are hand-in-glove.

Speaking of hacking, would you be willing to comment on another form of surveillance? Hyderabad police Commissioner CV Anand informed the Telangana High Court a day ago that the facial recognition system does not trace public movement and neither does it result in mass surveillance.

The Facial Recognition System (FRS) violates the right to privacy which is a part of Article 21’s right to life and personal liberty. I oppose it. As long as I or anyone else does not indulge in anti-national activities, I can talk about what I want with whomsoever I want.

What about the state government’s argument that the FRS and the use of CCTV cameras reduce crime?

Let them furnish data on if the crime rate has gone down or risen. Let us compare it with other cities. They could also furnish proof of how many CCTV cameras are functioning in the state. If they are going to enter into the private lives of people, they need to at the very least explain why it is needed. This is a gross misuse of state machinery and it is done to intimidate the opposition in the state among other actors.

You have also been a vocal critique of BRS MLC Kavitha’s alleged involvement in the liquor scam and generally speaking BRS’ governance. What do you have to say about the reaction of BRS that is a political stunt?

Neither the BRS nor MLC Kavitha has openly responded to the allegations. While the matter is sub judice, there is no smoke without fire. Why was a charge sheet filed against her by the Enforcement Directorate? There have been reports about her destroying phones to avoid surveillance. The MLC has a responsibility to tell people the truth. Did she buy liquor? Where did the money come from? Why was Abhishek Boinpally arrested? The public has a right to know this information and the BRS cannot keep quiet.

How do you think the Telangana legislative assembly elections in 2023 will pan out? Do you think the BSP has a shot at succeeding?

Absolutely. Day by day the public is thoroughly vexed with the ruling party. The issues which need to be discussed are education, joblessness, homelessness etc. This is what I am trying to do. I am certain that we will make a huge impact in the 2023 elections.

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