Israeli's NSO Group is in the eye of a storm over its Pegasus spyware - but it is far from the only company helping governments with their covert surveillance operations. Explosive claims that Pegasus was used to spy on activists and even heads of state have shone a spotlight on the software, which allows highly intrusive access to a person's mobile phone. But NSO are merely one player in an industry that has quietly boomed in recent years, arming even cash-strapped governments with powerful surveillance technology. "These tools have gotten cheaper and cheaper," said Ms Allie Funk, senior research analyst in technology and democracy at the United States think tank Freedom House. "So it's not just the world's foremost intelligence agencies that can purchase them - it's smaller governments, or local police agencies." Emerging economies such as India, Mexico and Azerbaijan dominate the list of countries where large numbers of phone numbers were allegedly identified as possible targets by NSO's clients.

In the summer of 1981, a man who called himself a consultant turned up at a young woman’s home in India’s western city of Mumbai.

She was starting a small business and he said he could help her secure a new telephone connection for a bribe.

The process usually took up to two decades back then – a government-owned monopoly was the sole source of phone connections. By the mid-1980s, nearly a million people were waiting for a phone.

Before July 1991 – when historic reforms threw open the door to India’s economy – such “consultants” roamed outside offices in the country, offering out-of-turn phone connections, driving licences and passports for a hefty premium.

Otherwise, Indians queued up for everything. They waited 10 years for a scooter and seven years for a car. A columnist wrote of how he had to “pull strings” to get milk powder for his first child.

1991 reforms: The year that transformed India
In the case of the Mumbai woman, the consultant’s fee was 15,000 rupees ($201; £145), nearly 15 times her annual pay. He said it was so expensive because a part of this money would go to a federal minister’s family.

“They will get you the connection and take a bribe,” he said. The woman, who did not want to be identified, dipped into her savings and paid up. She got a new connection in two weeks.

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