Spying is reserved for criminals and terrorists, but names such as Rahul Gandhi, Prashant Kishor, Ashok Lavasa & Ashwini Vaishnaw were spyware targets!
The Congress accused the government of “treason” and compromising on national security over the Pegasus spyware issue and on Monday demanded the sacking of Home Minister Amit Shah and a probe into the “role of Prime Minister” Narendra Modi in the entire matter.
PegasusProject Pegasus, a global collaborative investigative project, had earlier revealed that Israeli company NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware targeted over 300 mobile phone numbers in India including that of two serving Ministers in the Narendra Modi government, three Opposition leaders, one constitutional authority, several journalists and business persons.
Senior Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, election strategist Prashant Kishor, former Election Commissioner Askhok Lavasa, ministers Ashwini Vaishnaw and Prahlad Patel, TMC leader Abhishek Banerjee, the entire family of a Supreme Court staffer who had accused the then CJI Ranjan Gogoi of sexual harassment in 2019 are among those whose phones were either breached or were listed as potential targets by the Israeli company NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware, The Wire, a digital news platform, reported on Monday.
The Wire stated that two mobile phone accounts used by Rahul Gandhi and the numbers of five of his social friends and acquaintances were in the list of 300 verified Indian phone numbers that are a part of the leaked database which was first accessed by French non-profit Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International, and then shared with 16 media partners.
Being a part of that database does not establish whether an account has been breached and this can only be confirmed by forensic analysis of the handsets being used by the persons in question at that time. Gandhi’s phones were not among the handsets which were analysed and he has reportedly stopped using those numbers now.
Reacting to the development, Rahul Gandhi told The Guardian, “Targeted surveillance of the type you describe whether in regard to me, other leaders of the opposition or indeed any law-abiding citizen of India is illegal and deplorable…If your information is correct, the scale and nature of surveillance you describe goes beyond an attack on the privacy of individuals. It is an attack on the democratic foundations of our country. It must be thoroughly investigated and those responsible be identified and punished.”
The Guardian also reported that Gandhi was not able to provide the phone he used at the time for forensic examination.
Ashok Lavasa, the only member of the three-man Election Commission to rule that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had violated the Model Code of Conduct while campaigning for the Lok Sabha polls in 2019, was also selected as a potential target for surveillance.
The number of a senior assistant editor of The Indian Express, who had reported in 2019 that there was a serious difference of opinion within the Election Commission when Lavasa had opposed the clean chit given to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, was also a part of the leaked database.
Pegasus targeting breach of privacy, Govt can’t run away: Opposition. The Wire also declared the phone of poll strategist Prashant Kishor was broken into using Pegasus in the midst of the heated campaign for the West Bengal Assembly polls. The report also added that the leaked database also features the mobile numbers of TMC leader Abhishek Banerjee, Ashwini Viashnaw, who was recently inducted into the Cabinet as the Minister of IT, Communications and Elections, and Railways, and MoS Prahlad Patel.
A founder of the election watchdog Association of Democratic Reforms was also the potential target.
Senior BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad on Monday said, “There is no single evidence that has surfaced that links the government of India or the BJP. Even those who broke the story have said that the mere fact of a number being in that database is not proof that it was breached.”
He added, “BJP strongly refutes, condemns the baseless and bereft of political propriety comments leveled by Congress against the BJP. It is a new low for a party that has ruled India for more than 50 years.”
Union Home Minister Amit Shah, in a press release on Monday, stated, “People have often associated this phrase with me in lighter vein but today I want to seriously say — the timing of the selective leaks, the disruptions…Aap Chronology Samajhiye! This is a report by the disrupters for the obstructers. Disrupters are global organisations which do not like India to progress. Obstructers are political players in India who do not want India to progress. People of India are very good at understanding this chronology and connection. And, I want to assure the people of India that the Modi govt’s priority is clear — ‘National Welfare’ and we will keep working to achieve that no matter what happens.”
Project Pegasus reports also dominated the discourse on the first day of the Monsoon Session as Opposition parties targeted the government.
Project Pegasus, a global collaborative investigative project, had earlier revealed that Israeli company NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware targeted over 300 mobile phone numbers in India including that of two serving Ministers in the Narendra Modi government, three Opposition leaders, one constitutional authority, several journalists and business persons.
The Wire, which is part of the collaboration, reported Sunday that the leaked global database of 50,000 telephone numbers was first accessed by French non-profit Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International, and then shared with 16 media partners — The Guardian, Washington Post, Le Monde, Suddeutsche Zeitung, and 11 other Arab and European organisations.
Congress seeks sacking of Home Minister Amit Shah, probe against PM Modi
Accusing the government of “treason” and compromising on national security over the Pegasus spyware issue, the Congress Monday demanded the sacking of Home Minister Amit Shah and a probe into the “role of Prime Minister” Narendra Modi in the entire matter.
Addressing a joint press conference here with other party leaders, Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala held Shah responsible for the Pegasus spying issue and said the Opposition party’s first demand is his immediate dismissal.
He said the Congress will take all Opposition parties on-board over the issue and decide on whether to ask for a judicial or parliamentary probe in the matter. “The person responsible for deployment of this illegal spyware Pegasus is no less than the home minister, who must be sacked,” he said, PTI reported. “Our first demand is the immediate sacking of Minister of Home and Internal security Amit Shah and a probe into the role of the prime minister in the matter.”
Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge said Shah should immediately resign as he “does not deserve” to occupy the position he holds. Kharge alleged the government has not only attacked freedom of speech, but also the fundamental rights of people including of judges, journalists, opposition leaders, ministers and activists.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi took a jibe at Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the matter using the hashtag “Pegasus”. “We know what he’s been reading — everything on your phone,” Gandhi wrote Monday as a tweet-reply to his own post two days ago in which he had asked people, “I’m wondering what you guys are reading these days.”
It is an attack on the democratic foundations of our country. It must be thoroughly investigated and those responsible be identified and punished. – Shri @RahulGandhi #PegasusProjecthttps://t.co/K0IPpSGArL
— Congress (@INCIndia) July 19, 2021
Terming it a very serious issue concerning national security, Congress leader Shashi Tharoor demanded an independent judicial or parliamentary committee probe. Since the government has said that it has not done any snooping, this should be probed, he said. “I feel that there should be a thorough independent judicial inquiry or a joint parliamentary committee. We cannot just brush it under the carpet,” he told reporters.
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,” he tweeted.
“The Minister should answer a simple question: Did the government acquire the Pegasus software/spyware?” he added.
CPI(M) and TMC were among the other parties that attacked the government over the issue.
The CPIM said that two years ago, the party had raised in Parliament that this “dangerous spyware” was being used in India as revealed by WhatsApp. “The Modi government’s response had not categorically denied that it engaged the services of NSO (the Israeli tech firm that created the spyware) but claimed that there is no ‘unauthorized surveillance’. With these revelations, it is clear that this government has engaged NSO for such surveillance against its own citizens,” the party said in a statement Monday.
Coming down massively on the BJP government at the centre, Trinamool Congress said this was as “an attack on democracy”. It said the revelations prove that the saffron party is suffering from “fear-psychosis” over rise of Abhishek as a national leader.
“This is a black day for democracy. This is shameful that the Union government is using spyware to snoop on the phones of politicians, journalists, activists. Even youth leaders like Abhishek Banerjee are also not spared; our poll strategist Prashant Kishors phone was hacked. “This only reflects the authoritarian mindset of this government. The union government should come clean on it. We condemn it,” senior TMC leader Sougata Roy told PTI.