Monday, August 2, 2021

Pegasus Spyware: Modi govt denies snooping charges via Pegasus spyware

IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw said by logic, the website only tried to create sensation through baseless news reports

The Union government on Monday denied any charges of snooping via spyware. The Union Information and Technology Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw, while replying on behalf of the government to the questions of the opposition in the Lok Sabha, rubbished the recent reports of espionage by the Union government.

According to the minister, the allegations were an attempt to malign Indian democracy. IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw said by logic, the website only tried to create sensation through baseless news reports. If the members pay proper attention to the news, then they themselves will understand this, he said.

The Union Minister said, “NSO has also said that the report is false and baseless. Any kind of illegal surveillance is not possible in our system. This media report coming a day before Parliament session is not a coincidence.”

While making a statement on the Pegasus project reports, published in The Wire, which showed that over 300 phone numbers – including those of two serving ministers, over 40 journalists, three opposition leaders among others-could have been targeted for hacking through Pegasus spyware.

Meanwhile, Congress leader P Chidambaram took a swipe at IT minister Ashwini Vaishnaw over his statement in Lok Sabha on the alleged illegal surveillance using Pegasus software and said it is unfortunate that the minister has started his innings on the “wrong foot”.

In a series of tweets, Chidambaram said the minister should answer if the government acquired the Pegasus software/spyware. “NSO Group, the owner of Pegasus, has said that ‘NSO sells its technologies solely to law enforcement and intelligence agencies of vetted governments.’ It is unfortunate that minister Vaishnaw has started his innings on the wrong foot,” Chidambaram tweeted.

“The minister should answer a simple question: Did the government acquire the Pegasus software/spyware?” he added.

Vaishnaw, in a suo motu statement in Lok Sabha, categorically rejected the allegations of snooping on politicians, journalists and others using Pegasus software, and asserted that illegal surveillance was not possible with checks and balances in the country’s laws.

The minister said the media reports on alleged snooping published a day before the start of the Monsoon Session of Parliament “cannot be a coincidence” and stressed that there is “no substance” behind the sensationalism.

“The press reports of 18th July 2021 also appear to be an attempt to malign the Indian democracy and its well-established institutions,” Vaishnaw said in his first statement in Parliament as a minister.

The minister, however, did not specify whether the Indian government was using Pegasus spyware developed by Israeli company NSO. Chidambaram said, “In his statement, the minister has omitted to quote the crucial part of Pegasus’ statement. The services that are ‘openly available to anyone, anywhere, and anytime’ refer to HLR Lookup services, not to Pegasus.”

The former Union minister was referring to the statement given by the Israeli company to a group of media organisations that broke the story across the globe. The Congress Party has demanded a thorough, independent probe into the matter and immediate sacking of home minister Amit Shah.


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