'Attempt to malign our democracy': IT Minister on Pegasus controversy
Ashwini Vaishnaw, the Union Minister for Information Technology, today said in the Parliament that the "Pegasus Project" is an attempt to malign our democracy and its institutions. Top media organizations around the world reported over the weekend the Pegasus spyware was used to snoop into the mobile phones of thousands, including hundreds of Indians. Here are more details on this.
'Pegasus report day before Parliament session no coincidence'
"A highly sensational story was published by a web portal last night. Many over-the-top allegations made around this story. The press reports appeared a day before the Monsoon Session of Parliament. This cannot be a coincidence," Vaishnaw said. "Press reports of 18 July 2021 also appear to be an attempt to malign Indian democracy and its well-established institutions," he added.
Vaishnaw also referred to earlier claims around Pegasus
Vaishnaw also said, "Similar claims were made regarding the use of Pegasus on WhatsApp. Those reports had no factual basis and were denied by all parties." In 2019, WhatsApp had said that Indian journalists and human rights activists were among those spied upon by unnamed entities using Pegasus. It had also filed a case against the spyware's developers in the United States.
'Any form of illegal surveillance isn't possible in India'
Vaishnaw added that requests for lawful interceptions of electronic communication are made under relevant rules and laws applicable in India. "Any form of illegal surveillance isn't possible with checks and balances in our laws and robust institutions." He added that Sunday's media reports do not confirm interception. "The report itself clarifies that presence of a number in the list does not amount to snooping."
300+ officials, leaders, journalists targeted using Pegasus
More than a dozen media organizations, including The Guardian, The Washington Post, and India's The Wire published the said report on Sunday. Phone numbers of more than 300 Indian government officials, Opposition leaders, activists, and journalists, were targeted between 2018 and 2019, they said. Pegasus is sold by the Israeli company NSO Group, which says the software is only made available to government clients.
Rahul Gandhi, Prashant Kishor among potential spyware targets
The Wire further reported that Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi and election strategist Prashant Kishor were among potential targets of the spyware attack. Other targets include two current Union Ministers - Prahlad Patel and Vaishnaw himself, the report claimed.
Indian government, spyware developers deny the allegations
Both the Indian government and the NSO Group have denied the allegations. "India is a robust democracy that is committed to ensuring the right to privacy to all its citizens as a fundamental right," the government said in a statement. Meanwhile, the NSO Group said the report is "full of wrong assumptions," adding it is considering to file a defamation case.