In a recent development that has raised concerns of government-sponsored cyberattacks in India, Apple has issued warnings to approximately 20 prominent Indian individuals, including opposition politicians and journalists. These warnings have revived allegations of the Indian government resorting to electronic surveillance as a means of targeting domestic political rivals and critics.

Prominent members of various opposition parties, such as the Trinamool Congress, the Indian National Congress, and Aam Aadmi, took to the X platform to share screenshots of Apple emails notifying them of hacking attempts on their iPhones. Similarly, critical journalists, including those associated with the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and The Wire, as well as the head of a government-affiliated think tank in New Delhi, also received such alerts from Apple.

It is worth noting that these notifications, sent by Apple on Monday and Tuesday, did not explicitly name the Indian government as the perpetrator or confirm the success of the hacking attempts. An Apple spokesperson clarified that the company “does not attribute the threat notifications to any specific state-sponsored attacker.”

Ashwini Vaishnaw, the BJP minister responsible for railways, communications, electronics, and information technology, expressed the government’s commitment to safeguarding citizens’ privacy and security. He vowed to investigate the notifications, acknowledging that some of the information provided by Apple may be “incomplete or imperfect” and that certain threat notifications might be false alarms.

However, opposition politicians were quick to accuse the Modi government of engaging in surveillance activities and pointed to previous hacking allegations. In 2021, a leaked list revealed hundreds of Indian phone numbers as potential targets for surveillance through Pegasus, a military-grade spyware capable of infiltrating both Apple and Android smartphones. The list included phone numbers belonging to opposition leader Rahul Gandhi, journalists, senior bureaucrats, and Supreme Court judges.

It’s important to note that the Indian government has neither confirmed nor denied its use of Pegasus. The spyware is developed by the Israeli firm NSO Group, which claims to sell it exclusively to government agencies. The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project disclosed last year that India’s Intelligence Bureau received hardware shipments from NSO’s Israeli office, matching equipment used to operate Pegasus.

Recent notifications from Apple indicate that at least one person, journalist Siddharth Varadarajan, founder of The Wire, whose phone was found to be infected by Pegasus in 2021, was targeted by a state-linked actor. Journalists with the OCCRP also reported receiving these threat alerts. Other notable recipients of these warnings included Mahua Moitra, a member of Parliament from the Trinamool Congress, Priyanka Chaturvedi, a leader of a Shiv Sena splinter faction opposing the BJP, and several of Rahul Gandhi’s aides.

Apple’s notifications warn users of potential breaches that could provide hackers access to sensitive data, communications, the camera, and microphone on their iPhones.

These alerts from Apple serve as a reminder that India needs to provide a clear response regarding the use of spyware and hack-for-hire entities. Raman Jit Singh Chima, Asia policy director at Access Now, a digital rights advocacy group, stressed the importance of accountability in preventing India’s descent into a surveillance state.

An Apple spokesperson clarified that threat alerts have been issued globally, not only in India, since their implementation in 2021, covering individuals in nearly 150 countries.

These revelations from Apple, while not definitively implicating the Indian government, have surfaced at a delicate time. Apple has been engaged in discussions with the Indian government regarding expanding its presence in the country and diversifying its supply chain outside of China. The company, headquartered in Cupertino, California, is also making efforts to connect with Indian consumers, having inaugurated its first retail store in India in April, attended by CEO Tim Cook. Annual sales in India increased by almost 50% to $6 billion in the year ending in March, as reported by Bloomberg News.