By Sushil Silvano, Our Special Correspondent. Edited By Adam Rizvi, TIO: Amid the Pegasus snooping row, former Union Home Minister and senior Congress leader P Chidambaram on July 2 asked why is it so difficult for the government of India to give a straight answer as to whether it was a client of the Israeli firms NSO Group that sells the surveillance Pegasus spyware.
He added that the NSO Group had 40 governments and 60 agencies as its clients.
“A simple question: was the government of India one of the forty? Why is it so difficult for the government of India to give a straight answer to that simple question?” he taunted.
An international media consortium had reported that over 300 verified Indian mobile phone numbers were on a list of potential targets for surveillance using Israeli firm NSO’s Pegasus spyware.
Opposition leaders including Rahul Gandhi, two union ministers — Prahlad Singh Patel and Railways and IT Minister — businessman Anil Ambani, a former CBI chief, and at least 40 journalists are on the list on the leaked database of NSO. It is, however, not established that all the phones were hacked.
BJP parliamentarian Dr. Subramanium Swamy was the first to ask a similar question when the Pegasus scandal first broke out. Swamy had suggested : “It will be sensible if the Home Minister tells Parliament that Modi Government has nor had any involvement with the Israeli company which tapped and taped our telephones…. Otherwise like Watergate truth will trickle out and hurt BJP by halal route.
Rahul Gandhi, , an economist of renown and a former Union Finance Minister, had asked:
(1) it is quite clear that Pegasus Spyware is a commercial company which works on paid contracts. So the inevitable question arises on who paid them for the Indian “operation”….. If it is not Govt of India, then who? It is the Modi government’s duty to tell the people of India.
The NSO Group has confirmed the existence of Pegasus. However, the Israeli company has also said that it sells the tools only to governments and that it is not responsible for its misuse.
The government, however, dismissed allegations of any kind of surveillance on its part on specific people, saying it “has no concrete basis or truth associated with it whatsoever”.
Asserting that “India is a robust democracy that is committed to ensuring the right to privacy to all its citizens as a fundamental right”, the government dismisses the media report as an attempt to playing “the role of an investigator, prosecutor as well as jury”.
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While the Modi government is steadfastly stonewalling the issue in the Parliament, the Pegasus Scandal will reverberate in the Supreme Court on July 5.
A two-member bench comprising Chief Justice NV Ramana, and Justice Surya Kant, will hear petitions filed by Senior journalists N Ram and Sashi Kumar, CPM MP John Brittas and advocate ML Sharma .
They have petitioned the top court to direct the government to disclose whether it has obtained a licence for the spyware or used it — directly or indirectly — to conduct surveillance of any kind.
The petition says a global media investigation involving several leading publications has revealed that more than 142 persons in India were identified as potential targets for surveillance using Israeli firm NSO’s Pegasus spyware, which is sold only to governments.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, ace poll strategist Prashant Kishor, two serving Union Ministers, ex-Election Commissioner, 40 journalists among others were found to be on alleged leaked list of potential targets.
The forensic analysis of several mobile phones, according to the petitioners, belonging to people listed as potential targets by the Security Lab of Amnesty International have confirmed security breaches.
The media organisations, including The Wire, have reported that 300 phones from India were revealed to be on the list of potential targets on the leaked database of NSO, which supplies the spyware. It is not established, however, that all the phones were hacked.
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Since the start of the monsoon session of Parliament on July 19, the Opposition has been demanding a discussion and an independent inquiry led by a Supreme Court judge into the snooping scandal.
Dismissing demands for a probe, the government has maintained that there has been no unauthorised interception by its agencies, adding that allegations regarding government surveillance on specific people has no concrete basis or truth associated with it whatsoever.
Meanwhile, reports have trickled in to the effect that NSO has blocked several countries from using Pegasus as a review of its use is in progress. It has not been revealed whether India too is in this list.
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Compiled and Curated By Humra Kidwai