Pegasus row: Defence Ministry says 'no transaction' with spyware maker
The Union Ministry of Defence today said that it has done "no transaction" with NSO Group, the Israeli company which is at the center of a controversy involving its Pegasus spyware program. The Ministry stated this in a written response in the Rajya Sabha (Upper House of Parliament). The ongoing Monsoon Session of the Parliament has been marred by Opposition protests over the scandal.
The Ministry's answer was in response to a question asked by CPI(M) MP Dr. V Sivadasan. Sivadasan had asked whether "government had carried out any transaction with the NSO Group Technologies." In reply, the Defence Ministry said it has "not had any transaction with NSO Group Technologies," reports say. This is the first time the government has filed a written response over this issue.
Phone numbers of more than 300 Indian activists, journalists, Opposition leaders, among others, were hacked using the spyware program Pegasus, according to an investigation by media organizations around the world. Potential targets included Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi, election strategist Prashant Kishor, among many others. NSO Group says it only supplies the product to vetted government clients and their agencies.
The Indian government has denied any involvement in the snooping scandal. It called the allegations a "non-issue," saying there is no need to discuss them in the Parliament. Union IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw had earlier read out a statement in the Parliament, rejecting the reports. Vaishnaw is notably named as one of the potential targets of the spyware.
Since this Parliament Session began on July 19, little work has been done due to Opposition protests over the Pegasus row and other key issues. In fact, over Rs. 130 crore of taxpayers' money have been wasted because of the disruptions. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have been attacking the Opposition for stalling the Parliament.